Linda Finlayson on Writing Christian Children's Books

Linda Finlayson’s writing of Christian children’s books, she admits, was always in God’s hands, although it officially started with her family’s move to Philadelphia. Born in Toronto, Canada, Linda moved with her husband, Sandy Finlayson, to the United States when he accepted a position at Westminster Theological Seminary. Working at Westminster had always been a dream, since Sandy had a grandfather associated with Westminster and John Murray had been a longstanding family friend. At the same time, since Linda accompanied her husband to the U.S., she was unable to work because of their visas. “Immigration didn’t recognize me as a person,” she explained. Her husband encouraged her to answer a call for writers from Christian Focus Publications, and she did. Thus began her career with Christian Focus, writing for young readers.

       Just as Linda identifies God’s divine hand at work in her writing life, she also seeks to communicate this truth in all of history, which is the foundation of her Timeline series. While her first book was focused on church history, her newest book, set to release on November 6, is titled God’s Bible Timeline: The Big Book of Biblical History. Her reasoning in writing this book was that “children would see God’s hand in history, and how God has worked through history.” She went on to say, “One should never underestimate what a child can understand.” Her main desire was that children would realize that church and biblical histories "flowed together" in such a way that they "weren't isolated events." Indeed, the history of the world is a product of God’s divine hand; "It’s one big story,” she explained.

       So how does one become a children’s author? Like many writers, Linda admitted that she has “always been writing.” But perhaps what sets her apart is her dedication to children and telling stories. Throughout her life, she volunteered for vacation bible schools and other children’s educational initiatives, taught children in Sunday school, and parented her son, all of which display a heart for children seeing the truth of the gospel.  When working with children, she loved interacting with them and telling stories. These stories oftentimes would be about history, as history is "full of great stories to tell children." These stories were about people and each of their respective stories. When looking at these one can really "see why the events happened.”

“...history is "full of great stories to tell children."”

       Perhaps her emphasis on sharing how individuals have affected history paved the way for sharing how influences in Linda’s life shaped her history. She explained how a tenth grade history teacher opened up the world of history to her in a way that she had never experienced before. She talked about Reverend Hamilton and Pastor Redding, two men who deeply influenced her understanding of the Bible and God’s hand in history. Linda also noted that her editor Catherine MacKenzie and mentor Irene Howat encouraged her to write and publish children’s literature, and continue to do so.

       But she also found encouragement and resources at Westminster, as well. She was quick to recognize several professors who were a great help in her project, such as Dr. Coleman, Dr. Crowe, and Dr. Briones. Plus there was another professor closer to home who provided plenty of insight, not only for this project, but in all of her projects, namely her husband, Sandy Finlayson, who is the library director and professor of theological bibliography at Westminster. She emphasized that his role as library director and her love for research, and their shared interest and participation in writing, was something she greatly benefitted from.

       Just as Linda has people in her writing life who have come alongside her to support her in these writing projects, so Linda comes alongside parents through the Timeline series. This is seen primarily in her charting of the biblical history, giving children a visual idea of God’s working throughout history. The bigger, overarching story of redemption is made evident for children and parents alike. At the same time, she aims to complement the parents’ teaching in the life of their children. She explained that “in some ways, I’ve handed that problem on to the one who’s reading it with the child, since all I’ve said is, ‘This is a king who has obeyed God; this is a king who has not.’” Linda does tackle complicated issues in her Timeline series that are difficult to explain to children. She discussed wrestling with these complicated moral issues alongside her editor, such as how to define the word ‘concubine’ or even how to portray the kings who behaved immorally. At the same time, as a historian, she’s able to portray some of the tarnished events and lives as they really are, which allows parents to then step in and tackle those subjects with their families.

       Through the encouragement and warnings of individual lives throughout history, through the tackling of difficult concepts that need to be addressed, and through the chronological view of history’s events, Linda’s desire is that God’s Bible Timeline will entertain and instruct, and even more so, that it would spur children on to read the Bible for themselves. Linda’s writing of the Timeline series is truly a service to, and labor of love for, families who want to teach their children that God’s hand is evident throughout all of history.

Ashley Anthony is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

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