Jelly beans, decorating eggs, new clothes, and going to church as a family. For many children, those all represent Easter. However, it’s important for them to learn what Easter is really all about. That’s where Jesus Rose for Me: The True Story of Easter (New Growth Press), written by Jared Kennedy and illustrated by Trish Mahoney, comes in: The book helps toddlers and preschoolers understand the true meaning of Easter in a personal, memorable way. Created for children ages three to seven, this beautifully illustrated board book begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter, when Jesus rose for us. In this interview, Jared explains approaching the material for young readers, how he makes the Bible account more accessible for little ones, and gives us a preview of his upcoming worship book.
Jesus Rose for Me sets out to teach toddlers and preschoolers about the true story of Easter. How much are children that young able to grasp about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?
You know, toddlers and young preschoolers are learning by rote and by recognition. Here’s what I mean by that. Little kids are learning to repeat back stories, verses, and biblical truth; sometimes they do that without a whole lot of thought about what the words and stories mean. But those basic concepts are foundational; learning these truths are essential for kids if they’re going to grow up to have a more mature faith later in life.
Think about this for a moment. A two-year-old typically has a 200-word vocabulary while a three-year-old has a 1,500-word vocabulary. That’s 1,300 words in a year! Even if we’re faithfully learning the “word of the day” along with Alexa, adults might learn 350 or so new words in a year.
But our youngest kids are learning so many brand-new truths! So, when you read to your preschooler about basic Bible concepts—sin, salvation, the cross, the resurrection, Easter, or even the name, Jesus—they’re just learning those words and their significance for the first time. Later on, preschoolers will be able to recognize biblical concepts that have been taught before. And, by God’s grace, they’ll spend their whole lives learning to trust the God those stories point them to.
Do you begin the re-telling of the story at the empty tomb or do you start with earlier events?
Jesus Rose for Me tells the events of holy week for preschoolers. It begins with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, and it includes the last supper in the upper room, and Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. The book ends with Easter, when Jesus rose for us! Children will learn that Jesus is our king, that everyone who trusts Jesus is part of his forever family, that Jesus died for us, and that Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus is alive!
How do you interject thoughts and questions into the book to make the Bible story more personal to the little readers?
Each of the four stories is accompanied by brightly colored illustrations by Trish Mahoney that both highlight the story and add fun interactive elements to keep even the youngest child’s attention. I’d encourage parents to read the book slowly, to point out the facial expressions on the Bible people’s faces and talk with their children about how the Bible people in the stories reacted to the events of Easter week. Each of the stories also ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to further reinforce the key truth of each story.
What’s the best way to communicate the message of the resurrection to your toddler?
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to read and tell the story. According to child psychologists, a “narrative” function emerges in children by age three. That’s just science recognizing the truth that God made the human brain so that we think in stories.
Preschoolers are definitely able to grasp the basic plotline of a good story. And, from a young age, toddlers also begin to tell stories about their daily lives. As they grow, kids begin to make up even more stories about themselves—about their toys and about imaginative adventures they’re going on.
Hearing and telling stories give kids a sense of rooted identity. We want their identity to be rooted in the story of the gospel (Psalm 78). So that’s a story we need to tell them again and again. So read the story of the resurrection from a Bible storybook like Jesus Rose for Me, and, as your kids get older, have them act out the story. (Peter and John’s race to the tomb in John 20 is really fun to act out!)
Another key way to communicate the message of the resurrection is to make it a part of your family traditions. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned the Easter greeting, but I do remember my dad waking my brother and I up on Easter morning with the words, “He is risen!” I learned from a very young age what to echo back, “He is risen, indeed!”
In addition to Jesus Rose for Me, you have another book for kids coming out later in the year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m really excited about God Made Me for Worship that is coming out in October. The idea for this book came from the fact that as a dad and a children’s pastor I understand sitting in a worship service can be a difficult experience for a young child.
One minute we’re singing loudly. The next we have to sit and listen quietly (without talking). Next minute—especially if you’re in a more liturgical tradition—the adults are all saying something in unison like “Thanks be to God!”
My goal in God Made Me for Worship is to make the complexity of a Christian worship gathering understandable for kids. It uses the story of the prophet Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 to teach kids (and maybe parents too) that all the parts of worship work together to tell the story of the gospel.
Visit Jared Kennedy’s Author Page