For children’s series The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls, author M.J. Thomas combines biblical accuracy with adventure, imagination, and characters who are dear to his heart. The latest adventure, The Great Escape (WorthyKids/Ideals), finds the kids in ancient Egypt, where they witness firsthand the cataclysmic showdown between Moses and the Pharaoh. In this interview, he tells FamilyFiction about the origins of the series, the challenges of writing for children, and how his characters end up having these amazing adventures…
What inspired you to write the Secret of the Hidden Scrolls series?
It started with a book report. I went on a search to find something for my nine-year-old son, Peter, to read. As a father and Christ-follower, I wanted a book that would help him discover the Bible and grow in faith. So I did what a lot of parents have done—I browsed through my local Christian bookstore.
I found a trove of story Bibles, but they were too young for Peter. I found several Bible studies and devotionals, but they were too adult.
Next I looked through Peter’s book report list from his Christian school. I found good literature, fiction, and biographies, but I couldn’t find anything that had the right balance of faith, adventure, and education. Undeterred, I took my search to Barnes & Noble.
When I made my way to the children’s section, I thought I had hit pay dirt. The shelves were filled with books created with children like Peter in mind. There were books about magic tree houses, funny kids, Greek gods, superheroes in underpants, and wizard schools—anything and everything the imagination could conceive. But none of those books contained the gospel-centered truth I was looking for.
After searching and knowing that Peter wouldn’t be young forever, I talked to him about my dilemma. He simply said, “Why don’t you just write one?”
It was hard to argue with that logic. So I decided to write the book I was looking for.
How do you get into the right frame of mind to write for this age group?
I read the books to classrooms full of children. I pay attention to their facial expression, their laughter, and sometimes their yawns. I picture those children when I am writing.
My prayer before I write is Psalm 19:14, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. I want young readers to know God and I don’t want my words to get in the way.
Are your characters completely made up, or are they inspired by real people?
The main characters are siblings Peter and Mary and their dog, Hank. Peter is inspired by my youngest son, Peter. Mary is inspired by my niece, Mary. She, like the character in the book, was adopted from China.
Hank is inspired by our family dog named Hank. As you can see, I was really creative in naming the characters.
The other main character is Great-Uncle Solomon. He is a made-up mixture of Indiana Jones, Willy Wonka, and C. S. Lewis.
The rest of the characters are based on the real people in the Bible stories they travel back in time to visit.
Can you tell us a little more about Peter, Mary, and Hank, and how they end up having these amazing adventures?
Peter, Mary, and Hank have to stay with their Great-Uncle Solomon for a month while their parents travel to Africa. They think it will be the most boring time ever—until they find out that Great-Uncle Solomon was an archaeologist.
He shows them artifacts and treasures and tells them stories of his travels around the globe. Then he shares his most amazing discovery of all—the Hidden Scrolls! Uncle Solomon tells the kids that an ancient legend says these scrolls can help prove that the Bible is true.
Each scroll that Peter and Mary open takes them back to a different exciting event in Bible history. The kids have to race to solve the secret of each scroll, which is always a foundational truth about God, before time runs out and they get stuck in the past forever.
Without revealing too much, would you tell us a bit about what the kids face in The Great Escape?
In their third adventure, Peter, Mary, and Hank travel back to the action-packed story of Exodus. They wind up befriending Pharaoh’s daughter and witness Moses’ repeated petitions to Pharaoh and the many plagues that follow.
As Peter and Mary try to decode the scroll, they face opposition from Pharaoh’s cunning advisor the Great Magician, who seems to be up to no good. There’s also a panther, a grumpy camel, and frogs aplenty, so there should be lots of funny moments for kids to enjoy.
What comes next for the series?
I am currently writing the fourth book in the series. The trio travels back in time to Jericho. The only thing I can tell you now is that there will be spies and secret missions involved. It will release in late summer, and book five won’t be far behind.
Find M.J. Thomas’ author page here: https://www.familyfiction.com/authors/m-j-thomas
The Great Escape
The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls