Before Harry Potter

Before the craze of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, there was Frank Peretti, the true pioneer in catapulting his readers into the supernatural. Rowling wrote seven books about Harry’s adventures. Peretti has eight in his Cooper Kids series and at least ten novels geared for adults.

Am I pitting them against each other? It wasn’t my intention, but if your kids have read Harry Potter, then give them a chance at the more Biblically based Cooper Kids. So many similar books have come out in the past thirty years, yet Peretti weaves Christian truth into the plot more skillfully than any others that I’ve read.

this present darkness

Famous for This Present Darkness, published in 1986, Frank Peretti wrote the first book of the Cooper Kids, The Door in the Dragon’s Throat, in 1985. He introduces Jay and Lila, along with their archaeologist father, in a Middle Eastern setting, the perfect place to launch an epic battle between good and evil. As was more common in the Eighties, Peretti gives quite a bit of back story as characters are introduced, but he does it well, and it reads quickly.

My favorite of the eight is Secret of the Desert Stone. Set in Africa, Jay and Lila become friends with another brother and sister whose tribe is in danger of being wiped out by the megalomaniac leader of a rival tribe, the tribe with absolute power in running the country. Preparations for war keep us turning the pages as fast as we can. Parallels between the tribe’s legends and Bible history keep us enthralled on a deeper level. As all four kids draw closer to learning Truth, the opposition trains its sights on wiping out the village that stands in its way.

desert tree

When my sons were in elementary school, they hated to read. They weren’t all that enthused about being read to, either. But when I started to read aloud This Present Darkness, they begged me to read another chapter. And another. Every day.

Peretti created a spark in them to explore Truth. His books jump started an interest in God, in spiritual warfare, in truth of scripture, and in the realization that a relationship with Christ is not fiction even if Peretti’s stories didn’t really happen. I am grateful for all the dinner table conversations he inspired!

credit to

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What books have you read that inspired family conversations about Jesus and living for Him?

Back in Time

Date: September 13, 2013 Location: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Indiana

I have a few minutes before the First Timers session at the ACFW Conference, so I explore the hotel. BT Level. This button looks different than the others but it’s the lowest down, so I press it. In a woosh of light and sound I descend. The doors open to terrazzo floors. I walk up vaguely familiar stairs and spill out to a different place. Time too judging by the big hair and stonewashed jeans. When I see her, I know the date and time. It’s September 13, 1991 and like today, it’s unseasonably hot. Her hair is long and blond with short bangs not unlike mine now. Hot from the walk from her dorm, she’s sprawled on the terrazzo floor wearing a jumpsuit in emerald green with legs that look like genie pants. I want to tell her that she’s too young to wear those maroon Aigner sandals. That the outfit doesn’t make her 115-pound frame look fat and eyebrow waxing is painless. I owe it to her, she’s me at 18. A freshman at Purdue waiting for her CHM 115 lecture outside of Wetherill 200. Something stops me. A few other things need to happen in 1991 and 2013.

Date: September 16, 2013 Location Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Indiana

It’s early Monday morning. I can’t sleep because I have to catch a cab at 4 a.m. and I’m afraid I won’t wake up in time. I slip out of the room and go back down to BT Level which takes me Back in Time.

This time I don’t arrive in Wetherill but in the tunnels near Shealy Hall. I assume it’s still 1991 so I go to my freshman room. I use my room card from the Hyatt to jimmy open the door. I creep over to the bed and wake my younger self to a responsive dream state.

40 Me: Hi Gretchen, I’m you at 40. I’m going to tell you something really bizarre.

18 Me: I’m meeting future self. I wouldn’t expect normal.

40 Me: You know how you’re reading This Present Darkness. Well, I just came from a conference and was a few feet away from Frank Peretti. He just got a lifetime achievement award from American Christian Fiction Writers. They’re having a writer’s conference and I slipped away to talk to you.

18 Me: I write novels? Let me guess, historical romance.

40 Me: No, something called speculative fiction. It’s like real world but with a supernatural twist. Not quite science fiction or fantasy. I know you hate science fiction and fantasy but you learn to love it. A lot.

18 Me: I do?

40 Me: Yes, remember I’m you only older, so I can kind of read your mind. Anyway, there’s this guy, I think you met him at Inter Varsity Friday night. A couple of years ago, I was on Facebook. How do I explain Facebook? It’s like that meet book thing with all of the students’ pictures, only on the internet. And you don’t know what the internet is. Think email on steroids. So, I found out his wife writes Christian fiction and one thing led to another and I started writing this story. Now, I’m in Indy pitching a novel to agents and editors. And you’ll never guess who is doing the same thing?

18 Me (her voice is a little sarcastic, probably because 40 Me knows more than she does): Who?

40 Me: Professor M. your, our computer science professor.

18 Me: He’s a Christian too? And writes books? That’s awesome. I knew he was cool. I can’t believe we can e-mail our FORTRAN assignments to him. So high tech. What other weird stuff is there in the year 2000? (18 Me counts on her fingers) I mean 2013.

40 Me: Computer screens look like real pictures. Not those green and orange screens. In a couple of years, you’ll use Windows machines. Like those only better. By 1996, you’ll use a laptop and modems evolve to be so fast you can watch movies. And read books on an electronic tablet. And smart phones. They’re like little computers. In 2013 you use an outdated flip phone but it’s still high tech for 1991. It’s smaller than a deck of cards.

18 Me: Wow. (18 Me reverts to default boy-crazy mode) Who do I marry? Have I met him? Do we have kids?

40 Me: I can’t tell you those things. But I’ll give you a hint. In two weeks, September 28. You and your roommate and a couple of other girls are going to go to a crew party.

18 Me: Do I decide to become a coxswain for the guys’ team? I marry a hot guy on the rowing team, right?

40 Me: Listen to me. You’re going to run into someone you know. She is going to be with some guys. You’re going to join her and go to Taco Bell and watch Saturday Night Live with them. I know, I know. That sounds lame compared to a party with hot crew guys but trust me on this. The crossroads of your life are at Northwestern and Grant. There are two kids who don’t want to do a Marty McFly and fade into oblivion…