|The Princess and the Kiss|
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A loving king and queen present their daughter with a gift from God--her first kiss--to keep or to give away. The wise girl waits for the man who is worthy of her precious gift. Where is he and how will she ever find him? The surprising answer in this marvelous parable will touch the heart of parent and child alike.
The Princess and the Kiss beautifully portrays the ageless message that "love ... comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5 NIV). Recommended for all ages, especially ages 6 and up.
Jennie Bishop’s life changed after the release of the bestselling parable, The Princess and the Kiss. She became passionate for the cause of biblical purity and founded PurityWorks, an organization that teaches strategies of Planned Purity to families all over the world. Jennie and her family stay busy with missionary efforts, homeschool, and opera and ballet events in Orlando, Florida.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm a farm kid from Northwest Ohio--my dad is a soybean farmer. I grew up in a small town, and I value that background. I have lived in small towns a good part of my life until we moved to Orlando about a year ago.
When I was a kid, I did a lot of writing. When the other kids were out doing sports and other extracurricular activities, I was in my room with my typewriter. I thought everybody could write stories because it was so easy for me. It wasn’t until I was about 30 that I got an opportunity to work with a publisher, which was a "God-event." Those women mentored me and helped me see that I had a gift, and that God was using it to do some specific things. It's been an adventure to write ever since then, and it's been fun!
Have you always written children's books?
Most of what I've written up to this point has been children's books. Right now, I'm working on an adult book that will explain what PurityWorks teaches—the planned purity concept that has come out of the Princess and the Kiss. But writing for adults has not been my forte, so sometimes I'm tearing my hair out, or yelling at God, "You have to help me do this!"
I'm a creative writer; I like storytelling. I'm really strong at writing parables. I think it's a specific gift that God has given me—the ability to tell a story that speaks in a variety of different layers to a variety of different ages. When Jesus taught, He was speaking to a variety of different age groups. That's what I love about a great children's book. You have the audience of the child, who's being engaged by the story, but also the adult can recognize that it applies to him, too. I love that aspect of children's stories and parables.
You've written several books for children about purity and love. What inspired you to write them?
The Princess and the Kiss has a very specific story. My daughter was in kindergarten when she came home one day and said, "Mom, all my girlfriends have boyfriends, and I need a boyfriend." I had always wanted my two daughters to be comfortable with their bodies, and be educated on matters of sexuality in age appropriate ways so they would feel confident talking about those things. But I wasn't prepared for talking about relationships like that at that age. It was a real eye-opener for me.
As I was praying over my girls that night, I said to the Lord, "I need something now to help them understand how important it is to save themselves for marriage, and to value relationships." The book The Princess and the Kiss was a result of that prayer. When I wrote it, I had no idea what would happen. I didn't know how many thousands of parents were looking for something just like it.
From that, God began to show us that He was going to take us into a place where we could minister on the subject of purity, as the next books followed suit. From time to time, we wonder, "Why did God pick us?!" I guess His ways are higher than ours in that matter!
So, have you been surprised at how successful The Princess and the Kiss has become?
Oh yes! I don't think you ever know, when you write a book, what the response is going to be. There are a lot of dynamics that can affect it. Warner Press is a small publisher, and had been through a big downsizing. There wasn't a lot of marketing muscle behind the release of The Princess and the Kiss—we did as much as we could at the time.
But it's been such a huge grassroots movement. The responses were so unique. Bookstore owners were telling us that moms would come in, read the book and cry. They'd take it home and tell a friend, "You've got to get this book," then they'd come back with their friend, and the two of them would buy more books for birthday parties, and that's how the book sold. It was really by word-of-mouth, which to me is very affirming to me and to Warner Press. We recognized that it wasn't something anybody worked up—this was something God was doing. The more we talked to people about the book, we saw that not only kids, but adults were being touched by the story, and it was opening up the deep places in their hearts.
Was The Princess and the Kiss the first book you wrote?
No, the first book was The Crayon Kingdom, which is now only available through the PurityWorks organization online. It was a story about unity; how crayons were working together in a kingdom where they were making a masterpiece for God. But they began to divide into color groups, and that split them up and made it more difficult to create the masterpiece that God wanted from them.
Did you find it difficult to become published, or did God open the door for you?
God made it easy for me because I was working with a publisher at the time. I worked as a product editor for Warner Press, and then became senior editor for a little while. During that time, I learned a lot about the publishing industry. So much about getting published is about knowing people, and knowing who's looking for exactly what you're creating. That, in itself, is a huge job. God really made a path for me through my publisher to be able to have these books put in a place where other people could read them.
How do you hope parents will use both The Princess and the Kiss and Life Lessons from The Princess and the Kiss?
To me, they're kind of like a checklist. When I was teaching my girls about purity, I kept thinking, "Isn't there some kind of list that I can check off so I know I talked about all the important things?" It's been fun, but also kind of scary, to write books like that. I hope the Life Lessons, especially, will be a jumping off point so a parent can say, "Ok, I talked about all 21 of these things. They're all important, and I got a word in about them all." The study is really helpful in that way.
I hope the storybook just inspires. It's a special magic when somebody reads i>The Princess and the Kiss and says, "Oh, that's what I want for me," or "That's what I want for my child." It's important to me that people have an emotional response to the story, because when you emotionally connect with a concept, you find the initiative to make it happen.
Do you think parents today might be surprised at how much children already know about sex and what it means to give away their first kiss, as you put it in the book?
I think so. We want to think our kids are completely innocent (especially in the Church), but we just don't realize how much our kids are finding out. One of the focal points of PurityWorks is learning how to guard, protect and help our kids evaluate the culture around them. Purity is about so much more than sex. Our purity of heart has to do with guarding our five senses, which we call the “five doors.” Those are what are portrayed in The Squire and the Scroll as the five quests the squire goes through. It's really about learning how to keep our hearts clean.
As parents we can teach kids, at the very youngest ages, how to do that, which creates a great foundation for sexual purity as a child grows. There are a lot of things we're not as aware of, like the vocabulary we use, the subtle (and not so subtle!) messages on TV and in movies, and many other things kids are being exposed to on a day-to-day basis. It's really important that parents speak to those issues intentionally, so our kids know what we approve of, what God approves of, and how they can take steps to keep themselves clean … and why that’s so important.
We have to define and wrestle with what “purity” is and what “dating” is. What do we mean when we use those words? How do they go with, or not go with, what God's Word says about how we ought to live our lives? When we consider the words “dating,” or “boyfriends” and “girlfriends,” we have to reckon with the fact that those terms weren't coined by God. They were coined by us. If we’re going to practice them, we have to consider how to do that in such a way that it glorifies God. Or do we have to throw them out all together? Parents will make different decisions about that, but the point is they need to be intentional, and say to their families, "I have a reason why I believe God wants this for our family, and that's what we're going to adhere to in this household."
The Squire and the Scroll seems to focus more on purity of character. Do you think boys need this message more than the "giving away your kiss" message that The Princess and the Kiss focuses on?
Girls are much more connected to the idea of romance, and relationships. The story of The Princess and the Kiss probably touches more of them, although I've heard of young boys who've enjoyed that book too. But if you try to get a little guy to pick up a book with the word "kiss" on the front cover, you're probably not going to be very successful! So we went with more of the consummate adventure approach, with the dragon and the knight, to get a guy engaged in the story.
Also, boys are so much more visually stimulated. Although it's more of an underlying theme in the story, guarding the door of the eyes is something that we just can't ignore with our boys. They're constantly surrounded by images that they need to evaluate and sometimes turn their eyes away from. For instance, a Victoria's Secret ad on TV that we see today would have been considered straight out pornography a few years ago. But now, we're so jaded, it's just another commercial. As parents, we have to sensitize ourselves again because we've lost that innocence.
The Squire and the Scroll emphasizes "living by the Scroll," and the rewards that come with living by it. Is that a hard concept for kids to understand nowadays, especially in light of the relativistic messages they get from society?
Yes, it may be, but I really feel that the Word is the source for purity of all types. Psalm 119 says, "How does a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word." It's deeply tied in to our purity and our sexuality together. It has to be the foundation for everything, which may seem like an old-fashioned idea. When it comes to instilling that idea in my children, I struggle as much as any parent. How do I really get the Word into my children, and get them to embrace it, love it, and feast on it; to satisfy the hunger of their spirit?
When we were traveling this summer, we memorized Psalm 91 as a family, and that was very powerful. I don't think learning the Bible has to be really complicated. It's just a matter of taking the time to learn something together and explain why it's important. You challenge each other and have fun. When you let the Word sit in your kids’ hearts, you're loading them up with good things that can take root and grow, and then be available at the right time.
Do you think girls enjoy The Squire and the Scroll also?
It's more geared to boys, but I know girls who like The Squire and the Scroll too. Especially with our view of women in modern society—we see them more as warrior princesses—they have more of a sense of adventure. I think the book can appeal to either sex.
The third book, The Garden Wall (released in June, 2006) has a different format from the fairytale-like The Princess and the Kiss and The Squire and the Scroll. Why did you give it such a different feel?
It's a departure; I don't expect to continue to do books just like The Princess and the Kiss and The Squire and the Scroll. In this particular case, I was approached by a gentleman who knows about a ministry with AIDS orphans in Namibia, Africa. They’re using a concept called the “Garden Wall" to teach about healthy relationships. The whole point is building those 1 Corinthians 13 qualities into a relationship to create a safe place for your friendship or, eventually, married relationship. This man said to me, "I think there's a children's story in there somewhere!"
I prayed about it, and sure enough, it wasn't that hard for me to create a story portraying that concept. It's been exciting to be able to work on it, and to try something different. It was a challenge because there are so many qualities you have to incorporate into the story, but I didn't want it to be repetitive. So I made it a life-long portrayal of two kids growing up, finding out about life, and finding each other in a healthy way.
Are you going to do a Life Lessons from The Garden Wall in the future?
I'm not sure; I'm discussing it. The concept itself is being used with both adults and children, so I have some different options, but I think there'll be some kind of companion publication in the future.
What is the main thing you want kids to get out of The Garden Wall?
I would like them to be exposed to a healthy model of relationships. One of the things we talk about in PurityWorks is not necessarily outlawing, but questioning the whole dating, boyfriend/girlfriend thing. It's hard because kids grow up thinking, "I need to be paired off," instead of thinking, "I can have friends." It's harder for boys and girls to just have friendships without a romantic element before they're ready for it. I think that's part of what the Bible means when it talks about not awakening love before its time.
You don't see that many models of healthy friendships. Many Disney movies have little kids falling in love and kissing each other! It makes everything so casual and devalues the whole experience of falling in love, like your first kiss, or the first time you hold somebody's hand. It becomes a game, or what I call "Kleenex dating"—you drop one, and you pick up the next one!
Even with little tiny kids, we say, "Isn't that cute, you have your first boyfriend," when what we really should be saying is, "You like Johnny; what is it you like about him?" so they can recognize character traits that might someday be helpful in a spouse. That's what we teach parents about, and that's what we'd like children to get out of the book. We want them to be able to see how the characters were friends their whole life, how they related to their families, how they deferred to each other, and served each other, and were kind to each other, and overcame problems, and were forgiving, and selfless. Then, they can recognize those character qualities in other people, and begin to see what they value.
Some day, when they see someone who might be a potential spouse, they can say, "Oh, yeah, those are the qualities that I want." Or maybe when a girl sees a young man who's all tattooed and looking cool, but he starts using coarse language, or doesn't treat her right, she'll be able to recognize that he may look good, but the attributes she values are not there. It would stop a lot of heartache right in its tracks!
What is amazing to me is that when I talk to parents about these things, it's as though I'm talking like a revolutionary! These are really simple qualities of life we've forgotten about. I was on a retreat, and I was telling some moms some of the things we had told our girls since they were little. We decided that dating wasn't going to be a part of our family model, the girls were going to have friendships, and they would be courted much later on in life. The moms' eyes were like saucers! They said, "But how can you do that? Everyone around you is letting their daughters date!"
My kids have heard our message all their lives—it's not news to them. That's why it's so important to be speaking to them when they're small. And that's what I love about these stories. You're bringing up these subjects when they're little, explaining where you stand on these issues, and why. Those are seeds that are going to hopefully grow and take root as a child gets older.
Are you planning on writing more books like this?
God gifted me with a great imagination, and the only problem is that I have so many ideas that I can't pursue them all! I have a lot of manuscripts in circulation that I'm hoping to find a home for at some point. It's just matter of God's timing. I write down what I can and try to take the top thing off the pile when it seems important to Him. I'm sure there will be more, but I'm just not sure what at this point.
The stories seem to be based on relationships and even the royalty aspect, but each one has its own personal quality. One particular story I'm working on about an African missionary has a salvation message I really love. Each story is being considered and they're all different. I'd love to see any of them come to light at the right time.
Who influenced you as a writer?
I love Arnold Lobel (Frog and Toad) and Maruice Sendak. I love Sendak’s One Was Johnny, and Chicken Soup, and Where the Wild Things Are. I also like Rosemary Wells’ books and her fat little bunny hero, Max. I really enjoy classic children's literature. When I was a kid, I remember having books of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, and the Grimm brothers’ stories with those incredible illustrations. I don't see books like that anymore, and that's part of what I love so much about The Princess and the Kiss—it has a classic fairytale look that you just don't see anymore.
The lessons in the classic stories, and they way they're told are wonderful. For instance, the story of Cinderella, for me, is really enchanting. It seems like a close parallel to our relationship with Christ. We’re like the scullery maid, and Christ is like the Prince who comes to find us and values us no matter what we look like, and the devilish stepmother and sisters try to stop it. I've done seminars on that story! I wonder, since it's been around so long, if God didn't plant that story in someone's mind, and it’s become so dear to us because it is a reflection of God's relationship with us in so many ways.
What other books have your written that you'd like to talk about?
Jesus Must Be Really Special is about a little boy who is watching his parents' actions, saying "Jesus must be really special, because I see Mom and Dad doing this." It's a great book if you need a model of a Christian family, especially for a family that hasn't had a Christian background. We worked on coming up with the 10 qualities we felt set a Christian family apart from other families. In the original book, there were lessons that a parent could read that went along with the story showing how they could act out those things in regular family life. The book is going to be re-released without the lessons, but it's still a great model for families who are wondering what their family is supposed to look like, how they're doing, what they're missing, and what they're doing well. I hope this story is an encouraging way to get parents to consider how intentional they’re being about putting Christ at the center of their families.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
The ministry PurityWorks is all about giving parents and families strategies for Planned Purity. Our society says kids are just going to have sex; there's nothing you can do about it. Sexuality is a part of our culture and our society, but it's not necessarily seen in healthy ways. We need to believe differently and take the responsibility of helping our children to guard themselves culturally. We also can help them follow a path where it's easy for them to embrace sexual purity, instead of trying to have one “big talk,” thinking that's going to take care of it.
It takes a lifetime of learning to be able to build those foundations. So we have materials and speaking engagements to teach parents how to do that with intentionality. Also, we minister to parents who have teenagers that are just getting on the ball with purity. How do they start? How do they go back, dig up the old foundation, and put something new in to help their teens survive in the place they're at right now? We try to encourage parents to be intentional, and to work where they are. Each parent needs to understand that he/she is the right parent for his/her child. God's going to equip each parent with the right tools to be able to lead that child into purity no matter where they start. For more information on those things, our website is purityworks.org, and my author site is jenniebishop.com.
I’d love to close with just a few words on our international work. The Princess and the Kiss has been translated into Russian, and we've been doing some work in the Ukraine. We did a family missions trip there this summer, where we spent two weeks in an orphan camp in the northern part of the country. We're excited about teaching purity to orphans there. At age 16, kids leave the orphanage, but they’re not equipped for life. Most of them become prostitutes and alcoholics.
We're also due to head to Nigeria in March to do some work with The Jesus Film and Great Commission, and to speak on purity. God is opening up some neat opportunities for us. We've got some possible partners in Kenya, and in the Bahamas and in some other places that we're looking into. We want to be very available to the AIDS issue, especially in African orphanages. We believe that there is an answer to the AIDS problem, and it's living a pure life the way God meant us to. We want people to know it's possible. We'd like to be a voice in African countries where the governments are recognizing that abstinence is the only answer.
All of this is a God thing—we can't make any of it happen, it's just happening. Being a small town farm kid, I found international travel terrifying—I never pictured doing it! The first time we went overseas, I can't even describe to you the culture shock! But when I got back, it was as though the Lord had opened a door in my life to be able to see how possible it all was, and how much influence and help we could give in places that needed it. I'm excited about touching people all over the world, and that's a real privilege for us.