Andrew Peterson: ‘No Teachable Moments’

Can a fantasy epic introduce the gospel to kids? That’s the hope behind The Wingfeather Saga, the children’s book series turned television show that’s just premiered its second season. (Episode 1 is available for viewing starting today, April 5, on; the remaining six episodes will be released weekly this spring.) The series tells the story of the three Igiby siblings—Janner, “Tink,” and Leeli—who live with their mother and grandfather in a world called Aerwiar. When the children learn that their family is at the center of a great mystery, their lives change forever.

Wingfeather came from the mind of award-winning author and musician Andrew Peterson. He recently spoke with J. D. Peabody, author of the children’s fantasy series The Inkwell Chronicles, about art, storytelling, and “making known the deeds of the Lord.” Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What can Wingfeather fans expect in season 2?

There’s a lot of world-building that took place in season 1. With season 2, you’re off to the races. It comes out of the gate fast!

That said, season 2 is also the first time that the kids in the story are separated from their parents. It’s where character development begins—they’re having to solve problems on their own.

We’re not making a cartoon; we’re trying to tell an epic story and using animation to do it. Hopefully the result is something that feels like a real world. The stakes are high, though. The problems that this family faces are earthy, gritty, and painful.

Part of the reason we chose the art style that we did [known as “paint motion,” which blends traditional 2D animation with CGI characters] is that we didn’t want the show to feel disconnected from reality. Even though Wingfeather is set in a fantasy world, we wanted the characters to be people you’re getting to know and care about deeply. Even when they’re encountering things that are not of this world, they’re encountering them the way people in our world would.

Your aim has been to create something with appeal for all ages. What are some themes parents can watch for to discuss with their kids?

One theme that emerges in season 2 is around names, identity, and calling. For example, one of the main characters is called Tink—but his real name is Kalmar. His understanding of who he wants to be is at odds with who he is called to be. When I was writing the Wingfeather books more than 15 years ago, that’s one of the things God was teaching me—this idea that who he says I am is more foundational than who I think I am.

It’s important to me that this story operates as a story and not as a Sunday school lesson. Again and again in my notes for the writers on the show, I’ve written in all caps, “NO TEACHABLE MOMENTS.” At the dinner table afterward, you can find out what it has stirred up inside kids’ hearts and minds, what it is that they are learning.

I’m a pastor’s kid and my antenna is always up. Any time I sense that there’s a moral lesson as the agenda, it kind of pours water on the story for me.

My hope for The Wingfeather Saga is that it will be taken as a story first and will do this mysterious work that God has given stories to do in our hearts. It’s first and foremost an adventure with characters that kids can really identify with; we get to sit back and watch what the Holy Spirit does with it.

What kind of work do you imagine the Holy Spirit doing with it?

I grew up in the church, but I was a nominal Christian who didn’t really know Jesus or have a grasp of the gospel. I just didn’t get it. The year after I graduated from high school, I heard a song by Rich Mullins called “If I Stand.” Somehow it cut through all the other music I was listening to. It got my attention and helped me understand who Jesus really was. Back then, when I said, Yes, Jesus, I will follow you, my request to him was that I would someday be able to write music that would create that kind of moment for someone else.

I really believe in the arts. Poetry, storytelling, and music can sometimes be a portal. On the other side of that portal is the person of Jesus waiting to be discovered. One of my wildest hopes is that this show will be one of the bread crumbs on the way to someone discovering Jesus. Just a month ago or so, I received an email from a mom who said her son understood sin and salvation through the story of Kalmar Wingfeather [who runs from his true identity, losing his way before being restored]. When I read that email, I just started crying because it was an answer to that prayer.

If we can stir some longing in people, some unrest that leads them to find their own place in the story God is telling, that would be amazing.

Your creativity has taken many forms over the years—songwriting, sketching, painting, writing, etc. What has it been like trying your hand at filmmaking?

Filmmaking is much, much more difficult than any of these other endeavors. I’m so thankful that I get to be in the room, but I’m also thankful that the rest of the team has so much experience. The story has moved out from me into this objective space with all these other artists.

I started in music and I’m used to the collaborative process as a songwriter. I’m pretty well versed in not being precious about something that I’ve made; I’ve learned to care more about the thing itself than my own feelings.

In a previous interview with CT, you mentioned that you want to tell truth as beautifully as you can. Are there any new truths you’re learning in this season as you wrap up your annual Resurrection Letters tour?

There are times when I feel very tired and harried. I’m trying to find a balance between real Sabbath rest, stillness, and leading a quiet life, and at the same time being out on the road, on tour, proclaiming this incredible story.

To me, the tension is always in trying to understand if I’m supposed to pray for rest or vigor. I don’t know if I understand the answer to that question just yet. But on a day like today, I am thankful to have breath in my lungs and to be in this beautiful, broken world with this news.

The psalmists say so much about making known the deeds of the Lord; I think my wife and I both feel a calling and a passion for that. We’re trying to figure out how to trust God for the vigor to do that work while at the same time being courageous enough to sit still and say no to things—to realize that the kingdom is also showing up in the garden in our front yard or around the dinner table. Making known the deeds of the Lord also applies to being with our children and our granddaughter.

I don’t have as much shame and fear anymore. We have so much evidence at this point in our lives that God is not going to forsake us. It gives me a little more courage to move forward with a sense of obliviousness and joy.

J. D. Peabody is the pastor of New Day Church in Federal Way, Washington. He is the author of Perfectly Suited: The Armor of God for the Anxious Mind as well as the children’s fantasy series, The Inkwell Chronicles.

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