We enjoyed reading this blog taken from this month’s Children’s Work Magazine, written by two of its editors. Have a read and let us know what you think!
Childrenswork editors Martin Saunders and Sam Donoghue fight it out over those vegetables you love to hate: Veggietales.
Martin Saunders:the ultimate Veggietales fanatic I do like to talk to tomatoes. A squash can make me smile. I really enjoy waltzing with potatoes, both up and down the fresh produce aisle. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a massive fan of Veggietales. This is a fairly new addiction, obtained entirely through watching the show with my children, aged seven, five and two. Their ages are significant, actually; I can think of no other film or television show that has all three of them absolutely transfixed. My eldest is too old for Cbeebies (and possibly not quite streetwise enough for CBBC); my youngest gets fidgety if we put Blue Peter on. Yet in Veggietales we have a show that keeps all of them – and me – happy for half an hour. Yes, it’s a little cheesy (and knows it); yes, it extends the Kingdom of Christian subculture which many of us find so unhelpful. But here are some important things: the series is brilliantly written, lately it’s been really professionally animated, and it’s actually very creative and innovative. In short, VeggieTales is surprisingly good for a ‘Christian’ product. It doesn’t fall foul of the usual Christian media pitfalls – laziness, imitation, lack of budget and quality. The execution of the idea is brilliant. This in itself communicates something really important to children (and young people… and students… and parents…): that Christian storytelling doesn’t have to be sub-par and a bit rubbish. Really talented writers, animators and storytellers can be Christians, and tell Christian stories, too. I’ve grown up listening to Christian music, and have come to the conclusion that most of it is a pale imitation of the ‘secular’ chart (mainly U2). Thanks to Veggietales, my kids won’t grow up thinking the devil has all the best TV shows. Aside from the presentation, the content is also really helpful. While early episodes were prescriptive retellings of classic Bible stories which made a single heavy-handed point, the later DVDs are more nuanced. Take ‘The Penniless Princess’, a favourite in our house, which is ostensibly concerned with the issue of fatherhood, but also explores bullying, justice, friendship and the long-game nature of God’s plan. Thanks to this short film, I’ve enjoyed deep and involved conversations with my two older children about these issues and more. Samuel (2) just likes the funny singing vegetables, but give the boy time. I’m irked then, when people criticise the series. These are high-quality resources which enable family viewing and discussion around faith issues. And this is no more than a hunch; I bet they subliminally encourage healthy eating too. Every home should have some VeggieTales.
Sam Donoghue: a bit of a VeggieTales sceptic I have nothing against VeggieTales. In fact I quite like them. Somewhere in my house we even have a ‘Larry the Cucumber’ soft toy; I think I even paid for it. Bob and Larry are great fun, the production values are ace and it does at least serve to up the ‘Bible literacy’ of children by familiarising them with some of the main stories (although mainly from the Old Testament). However, much as children will love watching them, we shouldn’t confuse them with spiritual formation or see them as a tool that will deepen the spiritual lives of the children in our groups. Here’s a couple of reasons why… 1. The stories are taken so far from the original and made so ‘child friendly’ that they teach children that the Bible is boring and needs some ‘Veggie Magic’ sprinkled on it in order to brighten up. It implies that children are spiritually second class and need an adult to do most of the work of interpreting scripture for them. Where research has been done on children, it has been found that they are perfectly capable of understanding and exploring a Bible story from the NIV if it’s read to them well. To me, VeggieTales re-enforces the sense that the role of adults is to provide an intermediary between ‘the proper God stuff’ the children couldn’t possibly understand, and a ‘dumbed down’ version we pass on to them. 2. VeggieTales misses the way that children understand story. If a story is a river, then you as an adult are stood on the bank, able to step back from it and use the narrative to find meaning. Children don’t think abstractly like this, they drop themselves into a bit of the story that feels good to them and explore the meaning around them. In effect, they jump into the river. This means that if we take the classic episode ‘Dave and the Giant Pickle’, which is a retelling of David and Goliath, the children are told that the story shows us that little guys can do big things with God. But this is an abstract thought for a child. For them, the meaning is likely to be in the moments of the story, so they might say that for them it was about why Goliath was so mean, Saul being expected to fight a giant but being too scared, or David being dumped on by his brothers. These are all elements of the story that a child might choose to explore to help them understand their life. On the other hand, silly songs with Larry: amazing.