One of the challenges of parenthood is talking to your kids about faith. With such young minds, it can be challenging to help them understand what it means to believe in something greater than themselves. Dr. Sheila Smart is an author and poet who has made it her mission to teach kids about faith. Through her books such as Willie the Curious Panda, Dr. Smart creates stories that are relatable to kids while teaching them valuable lessons. CEOMOM is excited to add Willie the Curious Panda to our CEOMOM Book Club. Read our interview with Dr. Smart to learn more about the inspiration behind Willie the Curious Panda and what we can expect from future stories.
Who is Dr. Sheila R. Smart?
As an author and poet, my works include several uplifting and inspirational books for adults and children, namely: Unbridled – Taming the Bully, My Moments with God, In His Presence, Jacob’s Well, The Donkey’s Tale, Willie the Curious Panda, and How I Met that Special Man. My most recent accomplishment is, Where’er the Wind Blows – A Collection of Poems. In addition, I have contributed articles to magazines that focused on parenting and teen girls’ issues. Furthermore, serving others has been my lifelong mission and this has influenced my over thirty-year tenure as Director/Superintendent of several children’s ministries in the United States and overseas. In this role, I was responsible for enriching and empowering the spiritual life of children from pre-kindergarten to young adults. I also served as a volunteer tutor for the Junior Achievement program geared to educate and inspire young people to value free enterprise, business and economics, preparing them for challenges in today’s society. My call to reach and serve others has not only broadened to the mission field, traveling to Asia and South America, but I currently head an outreach ministry that attends to the spiritual needs of the elderly and homebound.
What inspired you to become an author?
From a tender age, I have had the penchant for writing. However, that desire or call to encourage and inspire others with my writings, in and outside my sphere of influence, was totally ignored and buried in the abyss of procrastination. With expectations set on other goals, my many beautiful writings of yesteryears vanished into forgetfulness.
However, as I marched with the beat of the passing years my desperate efforts to stifle the pressing call to write persisted, but constant annoying jabs to pursue this gift were unyielding. Their haunts became inescapable. I was then reminded that God uses different ways to hammer away and break down our stubbornness. Surprisingly, it was a book given to me many years ago, and admittedly I have not read, that dissolved my doggedness. Its title was the boulder that pushed me to my computer and had my fingers pounding rapidly away at the keys. What was so special about the book’s title, The Great Expectation by Charles Dickens? It was the message it conveyed—it’s that great expectation that God has of me. It has materialized into the writing and publishing of nine books with several others in tow.
What inspired you to write Willie the Curious Panda?
Danger heightens when children stray from parental guidance, thus I wrote this book to educate children with life-saving lessons about the dangers of straying outside their safety zones, the harmful outcomes of disobedience, open-mindedness, and the importance of relying on their faith in times of trouble.
Inspiration for Willie the Curious Panda emerged from a scene I encountered during one of my trips to the mall. The peaceful shopping experience that I had envisioned for the day was interrupted by earth-shattering screams that left their hallowed place to pierce my eardrums. Never could I have imagined that such a deafening sound could have emerged from vocal cords owned by someone no taller than two feet. This very young human saw something that unleashed his natural curiosity and fascination and he decided to investigate on his own. Sooner than later he found himself in a strange place with only unfamiliar faces to fill his space. Eventually, his fright was calmed by the presence and spontaneous gesture of kindness by many strangers who were instrumental in reuniting parent and child. The Biblical story, the Good Samaritan, was on display.
Why is storytelling so important when it comes to teaching kids about faith and relying on Jesus?
Storytelling is important to teach kids about faith and inspire them to rely on Jesus. Kids’ creativity and their vivid and broad imagination allow them not only to imbibe or absorb what they hear but also influence their thoughts and attitudes. Their kinship with the “hero” in the story encourages them to emulate or mimic the hero’s actions. Therefore, storytelling about Jesus’ love for them and others; His willingness to forgive even when they are disobedient and His promise to protect them from harm when they are faced with challenges will serve as promoters of their faith and stimulate their zeal to rely on Jesus. Romans 10:17 teaches that “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
What’s next for Willie the Curious Panda? Will he have any more adventures?
Willie is very adventurous and loves to explore the unknown. His escapades will continue in future publications.
Other than reading them, what are some practical ways parents can use your books to talk to kids about faith?
There are some practical ways that parents can use my books to talk to kids about faith. 1) To discuss faith with kids will require parents to first explain who Jesus is and his character in order to develop and reinforce their faith in him. 2) Communicate to kids the importance of believing in Jesus, sharing with them Biblical stories about his unconditional love and willingness to forgive their sins. 3) To assist them in gaining a better understanding of faith in Jesus, talk to them about his immutable promise to be always near to them, seeing them through their fears and protecting them from danger. 4) Another powerful way to build children’s faith is to impart to them the importance of prayer. In addition to teaching and reciting with them simple and easy prayers, children should learn that Jesus not only listens, but he answers prayers. 5) In addition, parents should seize times of discipline as “grace-filled” moments, reiterating Jesus’ love, kindness and readiness to forgive.
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