Our children discovered Jenny L. Cote’s books a few years ago, and have loved them. It’s an interesting category she has created – a biblical retelling with fictional characters added in - the fictional characters being mostly animals!
In the first book The Ark, The Reed & the Firecloud, you are introduced to Max, a Scottish terrier and Liz, a brilliant French cat. Under the instructions of a goat called Gillamon, who reveals to them the Maker and what he has called them to do, they make their way to Noah as he builds the ark. What I loved about this book was the creative way Cote managed to get all the animals of the world to Noah, and then how they were housed in their native habitats (eg. desert and ice) on the ark. Of course, her interpretation is entirely fictional, but you found yourself thinking it could have happened that way. There is an element of danger in as an evil stowaway threatens the safety of the animals and the continuation of the human race.
At the end of the book, Max & Liz, with their life partners (Kate and Al) are granted immortality, and the chance to live through all time as they see the outworking of the grand plan of the Maker throughout history.
The second book, The Dreamer, the Schemer & the Robe is set in the time of Joseph and again I really liked it, with the details she included as the animals lived among the people of the Genesis accounts.
Now Cote is in the midst of writing The Epic Order of the Seven series, where 7 animals (including these original ones) are going to live out the rest of the history alongside the key events. Book 1: The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star, begins with Isaiah in his years of prophecy, moves forward to Daniel in Babylon and then finishes in the early days of Jesus’ young life. In this book, Cote masterfully deals with the Old Testament prophecies, constantly showing how they are all fulfilled in the coming of Christ.
Book 2: The Roman, the Twelve & the King, has two concurrent storylines – the time of Handel as he writes “The Messiah” and the adult life and ministry of Jesus.
Two more books have been written: The Wind, The Road & The Way (the story of Acts part 1) and The Fire, Revelation and the Fall (Acts part 2). Three more are promised to complete the series, also forming their own trilogy. I have not read these ones.
She is clearly a committed Christian and her writing praises the Maker (God) and how he acts, and sings the praises of the Jesus her Lord and Messiah. The way she has chosen animals to be part of the story means the same events unfold as in our bibles, but through the animals’ perspective, as they interpret and explain what is happening. As such, kids are given solid, real biblical truths through creative storytelling. There is always a note of tension, as shadowy forces against the Maker at work: the devil in various forms. Of course, in bringing her interpretation to biblical events, there are some things I felt were overemphasised (eg. there is a very strong emphasis on 7s in The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star). But overall, I am amazingly impressed at how she has managed to essentially re-write massive parts of the bible into a setting that captures children’s attention and imagination while still remaining very faithful to the
At points I’ve had hesitations about how the reader is to know what is factual and what is fictional. I noted upon finishing The Roman, The Twelve & the King, that there is a detailed explanation of which parts were factual and which she embellished. This is really helpful. Even more helpful is the opening page of the next book The Wind, The Road & the Way which says “This book contains fact, fiction, fantasy, allegory and truth. For the entire true story, read Acts and the rest of the New Testament.”
These are long books - all near 500 pages – so while they can be read and understood by ages 9-10+, they need to be committed readers to manage it. Because she has lots of animals with different backgrounds, they all speak with accents and with some foreign words, which can add to the confusion for younger or less capable readers (it’s hard to read a Scottish accent sometimes!). Having said that, there is always a glossary at the end to explain the terms.
These are also books adults will get a lot out of. I loved the first two, but have found the Epic Order of the Seven harder going – they are very long and take a reasonable time commitment. But whenever I have read them, I have been encouraged in my faith and reminded of the biblical account. Mr 13 avidly awaits the new releases, and started reading them at about age 10. Miss 11 has also enjoyed them and has read them all. I am planning to read the two set in Acts over the summer, as part of my thoughts as I prepare some teaching in Acts myself.
If your children want to read Christian books (or you want them to!), these are a great choice.