Keeping the Faith
Content presents another frequent challenge. David E. Behrman, publisher of Behrman House Publishers, Springfield, N.J., says producing materials that make religious studies fun and engaging for young and middle-grade children presents some problems.
“Our materials must at all times equal or exceed the quality and engagement of the materials they encounter in secular school, and they must help children integrate religious learning within their day-to-day lives,” says Behrman. “But we are always working to improve. For instance, we focus considerable attention and resources on creative design, art and photography. These are key elements in making a book engaging for children.
“The text, art, photography and activities all must be carefully combined to create a work that is open and engaging, while delivering the educational content the school needs,” he adds.
Behrman House primarily publishes educational materials for Jewish religious schools. It also publishes some adult nonfiction Judaica titles that can be found at trade outlets such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Examples of these titles include “As a Driven Leaf,” by Milton Steinberg and “The Family Haggadah,” by Eli Gindi.
Zettersten agrees that content can cause dilemmas. “I’m not sure this is so different from other publishers except that in my experience fiction is most difficult in religious publishing,” he says. “It is an area where I see the greatest lack of quality. I think Christian-living books and devotionals do very well, but I don’t see the same standard or literary merit and skill that you see in general fiction.”
The reason, Zettersten believes, is because historically Christian fiction was created by those wanting to make a point or teach spiritual lessons, and not written by those who love the craft of writing.
“Christian fiction tends to be written by those who want to impart some kind of message,” he explains. “But the content is missing the basic elements of good fiction like plot, developed characters and conflict, and authors woefully fall short of technical or historical research on topic, times and era.”