by Keri Willard-Crist
“The night is like an animal / that nibbles on the day. / Everywhere it takes a bite / the sky turns dark and gray,” wrote M.Div. middler Candace Whitman in her children’s book The Night is Like an Animal. Despite considering herself “more an illustrator than a writer,” Whitman has certainly proven her skills in both. The Night is Like an Animal, which was recognized by The New York Times as an Outstanding Book of the Year in 1995, is one of many children’s books that Whitman has authored, illustrated, or both. In the book, Whitman personifies darkness as a soft animal that “blows the moon up high” and brings a gentle darkness to the earth. Though Whitman’s stories may use themes that are often seen in children’s books, such as learning primary colors or exploring zoo animals, her approach to illustrating is uniquely her own.
After studying art history at Yale University, Whitman experimented with watercolors and blending fields of color. Frustrated with the look of her paintings, she put them aside to pursue other interests. It wasn’t until a few years later, while taking a class on children’s book illustration, that Whitman discovered the unexpected way she could put those old paintings to use: by tearing them into shapes that suggested animals, people, and objects. Her illustration style soon emerged. Whitman’s soft-edged collages beckon the reader to touch the glossy pages of her books, expecting the soft texture of fur or the cool feel of grass.
Art and ministry aren’t so different for Whitman. “You realize you’ve been trying to express spiritual qualities or Christian values in whatever you do,” she said. After coming to faith as an adult, Whitman found herself continually returning to the story of the church. “The things I was thinking about and caring about most had to do with the building up of the church,” explained Whitman, who applied to PTS after sensing a call to pastoral ministry. “One of the reasons I want to be a preacher or a pastor is because personally I’m drawn to the challenge of making Christianity intelligible to people who aren’t in the church,” she said. Children’s books are one way of making faith intelligible to people at a young age, Whitman explained, pointing out that parents often find faith through their children.
Whitman has surprised herself by continuing to work on illustrations since arriving at PTS, though she tends to keep her art career and her schoolwork separate, at least for now. “[Illustrating] refreshes me and my ability to go back to reading theology or church history,” said Whitman. “It keeps me in touch with the real world.” Whitman keeps an “idea file” on hand to store new book concepts for the days when she’s not a full-time student, and she finds herself inspired by her studies. When asked if she plans to work on Christian children’s books as a form of ministry in addition to the pastorate, Whitman smiled. “That’s kind of a lofty call,” she said, “but I’m game if God is calling.”
To see more of Whitman’s books, visit www.candacewhitman.com .