Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Matthew Paul Turner, the Man Behind the Children's Book That Everyone Is Talking About

Dear Sugar:

It's more than just a bedtime book.  It's more than just an "awwww" moment.  When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner is everything that's been missing in children's literature until now.   And if you haven't gotten on the bandwagon, well, today is the day.   Meet Matthew.  And I double dog dare you not to order the book after you learn how incredibly special it is.

Rachel:  Tell me about you and your family.

Matthew:  Well, my wife is Jessica Turner, one of the most talented, hardest working, and smartest people I know. In addition to working as social media director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, she’s also a successful blogger/writer. And she’s an incredible speaker. Jessica and I have been married for almost 13 years. We have three amazing kids—Elias (he’s 9 and loves soccer, Star Wars, and almost any board game), Adeline (she’s 6 and adores soccer, art, dance, and anything that is predominantly shaded in pink and purple), and Ezra (he’ll be 3 at the end of December. He loves music and books and right now is realizing how much power he wields being the youngest, loudest, and funniest person in our home). We live in Nashville, Tennessee, which we love.

Rachel:  You wrote WHEN GOD MADE YOU, and holy moly!  I've seen some big names (Amy Grant, Jen Hatmaker) telling the world how awesome your book is, I saw it on and Amazon (which to us moms is a big deal, because Target and Amazon are where it's at!), and my friends in the adoption community are talking about it on social media.  Everyone loves, wants, and needs this book for their little ones.  What inspired you to write the book, and how are you handling the success?  

Matthew: Initially, my desire to write a kids book was because I found so many picture books about God to be cumbersome and often not all that inspiring. And so, when I started writing When God Made You, my goal was to create a book that offered kids of all ages a celebration of who God created them to be, a book that reminded kids who they are and how God sees them and delights in them.

The response has been overwhelming. I’ve been grateful to have had so many wonderful people not only endorse the book but also share it with their friends and fans. I’ve truly been blown away by the letters and emails I’ve received and am grateful that the book offers people the light and hope that I felt while writing it.

Rachel:  I'm very vocal about #represenationmatters, and I'm absolutely thrilled that the protagonist in the book is a Black girl.   As you know, I'm parenting four Black children, three of whom are girls, and though we are seeing more representation in children's media, there certainly isn't enough.  My children yearn to see themselves (brown skin, brown eyes, curly black hair) reflected in toys, book characters, etc.  And you did this.  Your protagonist has brown skin, brown eyes, and cornrowed hair.  She's this talented, quirky, expression, melanin-poppin Black girl full of joy.  Please tell me how the decision was made to make your main character a Black girl, and what has the reader response been to this decision? 

Matthew:  Though I was fully aware that children’s literature lacked representation of children of color—especially in books about faith and God—and was thrilled when I first learned that When God Made You would feature a brown-skinned little girl, I can’t take credit for the decision. In fact, it wasn’t even a decision—this was/is the little girl who David Catrow drew/created and it was simply that—his expression for how to communicate my words. Nobody sat down and said “we want this or want that…” We wanted David to create and illustrate the book according to his inspired point of view.

I’ve loved hearing from people of varied races, telling me how thrilled they are that the little girl in my book is a person of color. I’ve been humbled by the response, mostly because I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a bookstore and not see my children’s faces represented in some fashion on the covers of literature. So I’m happy that the little girl in When God Made You speaks to so many people, for a multitude of reasons.

Rachel:  The book celebrates children for who they are, for who God made them to be.  The book is for any and every child, with lines like "So be you-fully you-a show-stopping revue.  Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue."  As a dad, what does it mean to you to produce a book like this one, and what do your kids think about it?  

Matthew:  My kids love the book, especially my 2 youngest kids, Adeline and Ezra. Adeline practically has the book memorized. So that’s been so beautiful to watch. As I wrote the book, I was certainly thinking about what I wanted my kids to know about God’s story, about what I wanted them to know about how God sees them and what God desires for them. And for so long, for many people, God has represented what you can’t do or what you can’t be—and as well all know, God was never meant to be limited by our prejudices or opinions… I wrote this book for every family who uses the name of God, that it would become for them words of encouragement that they can speak over their kids like a prayer. So, it’s been amazing to not only hear beautiful stories from strangers about what my books has meant to them and their little ones, but it’s also been cool to see some of those narratives also realized in my own home!

Rachel:  When is your next book coming out?  (I know, how presumptuous!) And if it's far enough along in the process, what's the focus?

Matthew:  When God Made Light is releasing in February 2018. It’s actually a re-illustrated, re-edited version of the very children’s book I wrote and self published. I just saw the finished artwork. And once again, I’m just blown away. And grateful. 

Sugars, pop over to Instagram this week!   I'm giving away a cool prize pack, including one copy of When God Made You.  

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