If I’ve learned anything through the years about homeschooling families, I’ve learned that they love books. When they hear that quote by Erasmus about not buying food and clothes until after he bought books, they laugh with everyone else, but they have to think about it first.
One weekend I was privileged to spend time with two homeschooling families. The conversation was frequently punctuated with trips to the bookcase. By the end of the evening, it was hard to find a place on the coffee table to set my teacup. These parents expressed regard for books on multiple levels. The quality of thought was important but so was a book’s spiritual trajectory. They even talked about the covers, the illustrations, and the paper. For them, books were to be received as rational, ethical, and sensory objects. In other words, their view of books reflected their view of man—a view that considers people as receptacles for the classical triad: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Put another way, we are most human when our thoughts (truth), actions (goodness), and feelings (beauty) speak with one voice.
We often divorce our thinking from our doing and feeling. Secularism tends to pit one against the other. Rationalism, Moralism, and Romanticism all battle with each other like gladiators in an arena. But this is not the Christian view, and it isn’t our view at BJU Press.
As an illustrator, I have a professional interest in our continued use of illustration. But let’s be honest: Illustrations are expensive to produce. They drive up printing costs. They delay the production of books. They take up real estate on the page that could be used for textual information. To compound the problem, many who crusade for illustration in education do it in a way that’s embarrassing. “Text is old-fashioned!” they say. “Images are the wave of the future.” These arguments are cringe-worthy and false. I prefer a more balanced approach, in between the Rationalists and the Romantics, that clarifies why illustration is so important.
Let me explain with a story. When I was in elementary school, my family had an illustrated book about Vikings that included a panoramic illustration of a berserker with an enormous axe charging a group of men with spears. The drama of this image moved me. I looked at it over and over again. The berserker appeared fearless, but the crowd with spears seemed to be very afraid.
I think about this image because I experienced it isolated from the text. At the time I knew nothing about the unsavory motives of Vikings. I only experienced the emotional tingle from the depiction of the energy of a man who loved his cause more than he loved himself. When I later read about men like William Wilberforce, who fought the evils of slavery despite overwhelming odds and constant defeat, I pictured this Viking. When on the news I heard about Christians fighting for virtue despite the general consensus, I pictured this Viking. When I read about people who fought for what was right rather than for what was safe, I thought of this Viking. This image and thousands of others plowed furrows in my brain so that when rational arguments were sown, they had a place to take root and grow.
We want our books to reflect the student’s humanity. Because the student has a mind, our books are written by experts in their fields. Because the student has a conscience, our textbooks integrate a biblical worldview. Because the student has an imagination, we illustrate and design our books to appeal to the senses. Like the homeschooling parents we serve, we at BJU Press aim to do the good work of telling the truth beautifully. This is a worthy goal and one that makes it easy for me to come to work in the morning.
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Zach is an illustrator who lives with his wife and daughters in Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to painting illustrations for BJU Press textbooks (such as English 1, Heritage 6, and Reading 5), Zach has done work for the Weekly Standard, Crossway, Disney-Hyperion, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Marvel. He also teaches classes in digital illustration at Furman University.
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