Do kids know more about Disney princesses than women of faith? How a mum’s burden led to a children’s book
This Children's Day, Living Room by Salt&Light celebrates our little ones. Plus, a big thank you to all who help to cultivate these young minds!
by Gracia Chiang // October 5, 2023, 4:11 pm
Keren Mulia's daughter was the inspiration behind her first book, but she has her son and other boys in mind for her second book. Photo by Joash Lee. All photos courtesy of Keren.
Who knew that a vending machine could inspire a book?
It was a usual trip to her daughter’s phonics class, but one that left Keren Mulia, 30, with an unusual lesson for herself too.
As they walked past a vending machine that dispensed toy figurines of Disney princesses, Keren was surprised that her almost five-year-old could recite all their names, features and stories.
This was surprising to Keren because little Hannah had not watched any of the Disney movies, but had remembered the characters from the books she saw in the library and advertisements she had come across on the streets.
Keren recalled: “I realised that, wow, she is really into this Disney princess thing. But I felt that if I asked her about the women in the Bible, would she be able to answer correctly and confidently?”
That was a lightbulb moment for the freelance digital project manager, who never imagined she would one day be a children’s book author.
“It made me feel that there are not enough modern Christian resources that are appealing to children. Or even if they are there, they are not being marketed enough, so I wanted to do something about it,” she said.
“I felt that if I want to make an impact, I should try to inspire or educate kids.”
Looking back on her journey, Keren also realised that God had actually been nudging her in different ways even before this incident, which happened sometime in February or March 2023.
Having finished up a work contract with a technology company at the end of last year, Keren had the inkling that perhaps she should try something new.
“I did think that I should write, but I didn’t know about what,” she revealed.
Then the direction came at the beginning of this year – again quite unexpectedly – when Keren was attending a class in church.
“We had an external speaker, and one of the points he shared was that children are a lot more teachable than adults. They are more forgiving and more open to change,” said Keren.
“So I felt that if I want to make an impact, I should try to inspire or educate kids. That was why I had that thought that I should write for kids.”
Convinced that she should pursue something related to children’s literature, the concept for the book was concretised after the vending machine encounter a few weeks later.
The hard road to publishing
Her next step? Share the idea with her husband, who readily agreed to support her.
“It was easy to explain the vision,” she recounted, as her husband, who is a Sunday School teacher, could see how the book would benefit kids. The couple have another child Jonathan – who is two years old.
Keren also approached two pastors and her former Sunday School teacher for their input.
“I shared the list of women to feature with two reverends when I was prayerfully deciding which 12 to include. I was also thinking if I should extend it to more women,” she said.
Another advice she took onboard was that the book should foster Bible reading and point people back to the Word of God.
“The initial draft had Bible verses in the book itself, but I wanted people to read about these women in the Bible directly, so I changed the flow and included a note on how parents can use this book to discover more about each woman with their child,” explained Keren.
“The section on What We Can Learn was also influenced by my Sunday School teacher. She told me to make it more balanced, so I tried to focus less on the humans (characters) and more on God.”
But even after pieces on the content side seemed to have fallen nicely into place, Keren opened up about the other challenges she faced in her maiden publishing journey.
For instance, she learnt a costly lesson as things did not work out with the publisher she had selected. Eventually, she decided to self-publish, so that she could keep the price of the book affordable.
“I’m very thankful for God’s providence now that we’re almost at the launch,” she said, pointing out how God had sent people alongside to help her.
After exploring different illustration options, including the use of artificial intelligence images, Keren turned to a university friend she had not met in 10 years as she felt that it was important to work with a Christian designer who had the same heart to share the gospel.
As it turned out, this Jakarta-based friend was already an experienced children’s book illustrator. Meanwhile, someone else had also recommended a printing company, which turned out to be an invaluable partner.
Summing up the whole experience, Keren said it taught her this: “If this is God’s will, He will provide a way.”
A book not just for girls
Now finally released, Women of Faith: Inspiring Stories from the Bible was launched in just 7 months from the time it was conceived.
It features 12 biblical women, all of whom were carefully chosen because they represent different lessons.
“My prayer is that when the book goes to girls, God will help them to love Him and glorify Him more. I really want the reader to want to be one of these women,” declared Keren.
“I feel that if you give them a role model, just like how the Disney princesses are to them, it’s much easier for them to grasp these attributes.”
But Keren pointed out that the book is also applicable to boys because there is so much that one can learn about God’s goodness and providence through the stories.
“I hope that they will know that this is the same God we worship today – God was so amazing to take care of all these people, and He will also take care of us today,” she emphasised.
“These are the attributes that please God, and this was how God used these women as part of His plan.”
That is why Keren and her illustrator went to great lengths in deliberating over how each woman should be portrayed, spending much effort on character development.
For example, the Bible talks about Deborah sitting under the palm tree to hear disputes from the Israelites (Judges 4:5). Should they depict Deborah as a judge in the middle of a desert?
Or should the focus be on Deborah in a fighting scene with Barak, when God gave them victory over the Canaanites (Deborah 4:9)?
In the end, the decision was taken to illustrate Deborah as a warrior in a battle scene after considering the rest of the stories that were going to be featured in the book.
It’s all in the details
“I wanted to stress one attribute and one key learning point from each woman that will inspire the kids,” described Keren.
“I wanted to incorporate diversity too, to explain to kids that beauty comes in different forms, shapes and sizes, as well as personas.”
Wanting to bring the characters to life through visual storytelling and yet remain true to text, Keren said she also researched details such as the women’s facial features and family background, what kind of food they ate, what they wore and how the architecture of the buildings would have looked like during that period.
“I’m not a historian or theologian. But I did try to make the book as accurately as I could as a layman. That process took a lot of time, but it was also very fun,” shared Keren.
“I learnt so many things, so I wanted this book to be not only educational for the kids, but also for the parents. Even for the adults who read it, I hope they will learn one or two new things that they might not have known before.”
While some of these trivia can be found in the book, others can be found on her Instagram page where Keren discusses some of the draft sketches and their thought process behind them.
Crafted as a resource for parents or educators, Keren urges them to go beyond the words on the page, and to spend time engaging with Scripture and discussing the questions with children. As such, it can also be used as a devotional.
The Indonesia-born-turned-Singapore-citizen also plans to have the book translated into more languages, namely Bahasa Indonesia and Chinese.
Burdened by the fact that Christians who are native speakers of these languages are religious minorities, Keren hopes this book can be used to build up the faith of people from those countries.
The late nights were worth it
So how did her daughter, who played such a crucial role in the book’s inspiration, react when she saw the book?
Relating how excited Hannah was when the test print arrived, Keren said: “She hugged it the whole day from morning to night. She was so happy and asked me to keep reading it.
“I think on that day itself, we read it five or six times. She kept looking at the illustrations and paid attention to how the women were illustrated. She also kept touching the title and seeing how it looked like under the sun.”
Explaining how they had printed just 50 copies of this board book, Keren said these were custom-made so that the cover sparkled with holographic elements.
As the cost to print and distribute a 32-page board book is too high, she only intends to give this limited edition version to her supporters and close friends. The actual book retails in a hardcover version.
Recalling how the response from her daughter encouraged her greatly, Keren said: “I felt that all these late nights and investment that I had lost track of was worth it.
“It’s just like when we go for mission trips. It’s not about how many souls we touch and how many people get saved – that’s up to God to decide.
“If I spend all this money and effort just for one more soul to know or love God more, then I think my objective is met.
“I want to impact girls who are one day going to be leaders in organisations, in societies, and maybe one day become mothers themselves. I want them to have a knowledge of the Bible from their formative years.
“Only then will I feel like I’ve already done my part, and it’s up to God how He wants to use them to become a blessing to many.”
Her journey of growth
Asked about how the book has personally impacted her, Keren admitted that it was a humbling experience because it showed her just how much of the Bible she had yet to know.
“I was blown away by how the genealogies of the women are linked and at how God preserved them,” she said, adding that she had learnt a lot from her research.
“It reminded me how much more I have to be equipped as an adult, a mum and an educator.
“That compelled and spurred me to do the book even more because I felt more people need to be amazed and know about all these things.”
As for projects in the pipeline, Keren disclosed that she already has four manuscripts in mind.
Revealing that her next book will feature a male protagonist, she hopes that it will resonate more with boys since this first book is likely to have greater appeal with girls. The inspiration for this story is 1 John 1:9.
“I want to tell kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that there is this God that is so big that He is able to forgive sins,” said Keren.
“I’m not a Sunday School teacher, but this is my method of reaching out – through books and writing.
“As a first-time author, this is the beginning of my journey, and I hope it will get better.
“I believe the impact is all in God’s hands. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and how He has sustained me so far. I really hope the book will be used for His glory.”
Women of Faith: Inspiring Stories from the Bible can be purchased online at Shopee, Lazada, The Amazing Grace Co, Toby’s Trove, as well as at SKS Bookstore (315 Outram Road, Tan Boon Liat Building, #09-03, S’pore 169074). There is also a free, printable colouring e-book available for download!
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