Tea and Biscuits with Sally Lloyd-Jones

This interview originally appeared on Cassandra’s blog, Stories from Porter.

Last Sunday night my 3-year-old niece came to visit. As the night drew dark and chilly she snuggled up to Grandma for story time. On top of the book pile was one of Sally Lloyd-Jones’s books, How to Get a Job, a hilarious tale of employment advice for kids. From the kitchen I could hear Penny giggling, and I happily mused that if Sally were here in person, she would have Penny giggling at all sorts of things. Sally’s stories are a natural extension of who she is — most wonderfully when she is writing about the greatest Story of all.

That same evening as Penny was leaving, all strapped into her car seat, she started to loudly sing the words of an old hymn that we had sung that morning in church: “Holy, Holy, Holy,” her deep 3-year-old voice sang, expressing great truth about God.

Story and song. Unselfconscious expression in laughter and lyric. The “least of these” coming to understand the might and love of her Creator before being able to tie her own shoelaces.

Reflecting on this afterward, Nate and I marveled at the importance of story and how it ignites our imagination, drawing us into something bigger than ourselves. And then further, the blessing of song, as it stirs up a response before we even understand the magnitude of what we’re singing.

Little Penny is a child of God, and she has entered into the Story. Songs will no doubt play a significant role in shaping her path, which is why finding the right ones matters.

These happenings and thoughts were perfect timing. At the top of my to-do list this week was to interview Sally Lloyd-Jones about her recent involvement with Rain for Roots — talented creators of children's music that won’t make you want to poke your eye out as you cruise around in your parent-mobile.

Separated by a giant ocean — me in Australia, Sally in America — we were restricted to an e-mail interview, which definitely curbed the amount of silliness and Yorkshire tea we could enjoy.

Cassandra: In a nutshell — which I know could be tricky given the question — why are you primarily drawn to writing for children?

Sally: A wise and wonderful editor of mine once told me that she believes there are two types of children's book writers: those who study children and those who are children inside. I knew immediately which group I belong in! It just feels very natural for me to write for children. And I feel very fortunate: children are the best audience in the world. They will go with you anywhere, much further than adults. It is an honor and a privilege to write for children, and also, of course, a great responsibility.

C: The Baby’s Hug-a-Bible poems are beautifully simple in the truth they express, with the question and answer of "Who" woven through every one. Where did the idea / framework for Hug-a-Bible come from?

S: When retelling Bible stories, you can either focus on what the story tells you about you or what it tells you about God. I wanted children to know from the earliest age that there is a hero in the stories of the Bible, but it isn't Daniel or Moses or Noah or David. The Hero of every story is God. I want the focus off me and what I can do and on God and what He can do.  

C: I know you often get to visit with and read to children, experiencing firsthand their response to your stories. How has your idea of childlike faith been shaped by the little ones you write for? What do you learn from them?

S: I learn from them every day. I often think about how children are such great gift-experts. They know all about gifts. They don't need anyone to teach them. They know how to receive them. They expect to receive gifts. They don't mind asking for gifts. They are delighted with gifts. Even with the wrapping paper. I would like to be more like that with my heavenly Father, the Giver of all good gifts. Expecting great things from Him. Receiving whatever He gives me. Delighting in it. Even the wrapping paper. Especially the wrapping paper.

C: Now, I know you've entered into a brave new world — Nashville's music scene! It's somewhat the same, but different, from your own artistic outlet of writing. What do you think of the whole experience?

S: My poor friends and family. Whenever I can, I drop into conversations that I have a "music agent" now, and “Have I mentioned my ‘new music career’?” And “What about my latest ‘lyrics’?” And “Have you seen my new ‘album’?” And then I rave about The Ryman, and “Did you know ‘I've played The Ryman’?”

It's obnoxious. But I can't help it. I'm so overly excited by the whole thing.

I love Nashville. I've been welcomed so warmly into the community, and now I have all these wonderful new friends. It's been great to learn more about songwriting and discover that songwriters and children's picture-book writers share more in common than I imagined. We are both, in our different ways, doing the same thing: distilling the story down into the simplest form. I've been fascinated with the interplay of words and music and the way it echoes the interplay of words and pictures. I can't wait to learn more. (Oh, did I say? I played the Ryman.)

C: Ha! I can vouch for that — I was there cheering and you rocked their socks off.

Connecting with the five amazing women behind Rain for RootsEllie Holcomb, Katy Bowser, Flo Paris Oakes, Alice Smith, and Sandra McCracken — I can't imagine a more friendly introduction to Music City. How has your time with Rain for Roots unfolded? What role have you played in the creation of the album?

S: What a wonderful, uber-talented group of women. I am honored they would put my words to music. Ellie, Katy, Flo, Alice, and Sandra first reached out to me about a year ago when I was in Nashville. We had a lovely lunch together, and now we have an album together. (Did I mention I have an album? I played at The Ryman, you know.) Their vision for creating good songs for children — and not dumbing anything down — resonated with me deeply because that's something I am passionate about too. They did all the hard work of writing the music and singing and arranging. I just got to lend them the words and listen and go along for the ride. It was so exciting!

C: What was the most surprising / enjoyable thing about hearing your words set to music?

S: The way it gives the poems new life. And makes you want to get up and dance!

C: Stories and music play a key role in the life of a child — imaginations are set afire by story and delightfully expressed through song. What do you most hope for this album in the life of a child?

S: That the music would stick with the children — that the tune would bring back the words and plant the truth deep in their hearts. What truth? Most of all that God loves them and won't ever stop loving them. Not because they're good, but because He is good. That is good, good news! And you're never too young for good news.

C: Lastly, and some might deem most importantly, tea bag or teapot?

S: Teapot.

C: Favorite brand?

S: YORKSHIRE GOLD! How could you even ask that question??

C: It's true, I should know better! I was taught by the Queen of Tea, after all.

Biscuit or chocolate on the side?

S: Chocolate biscuit — McVities Chocolate Digestives.

C: Excellent choice!

Cassandra Tasker is a self-taught designer, photographer, and tour manager who travels the globe with her singer/songwriter husband. During their journeys, these Australian expats share a passion for new foods and great coffee, creative design, old LPs, summer sunshine, and meeting new and old friends — all the while dreaming of Home. Cassandra shares their discoveries on her blog Stories from Porter. Cassandra and Nathan currently live in East Nashville with a small collection of thirsty houseplants.

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