A Christmas Devotional Adventure for Preteens & Teens
Christmas is a sacred time of holiness, joy, reflection, family, and anticipation. Families come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and remember the miracle of His birth and life. For preteens and teens, the holiday season can be exciting. From spending time with loved ones to getting and exchanging gifts to having time off from school, children of all ages typically treasure the month of December.
Yet, for those preteens and teens, it is a naturally confusing time in general. They are at an age where they are discovering their faith and morals and diving deep into who they are. As parents, Christian school teachers, and co-op leaders, what better way and time to guide them through this journey than with an engaging Christmas Advent Devotional book geared specifically for them during the holiday season?
We recently had the opportunity to learn about a brand-new book called The Advent Investigator, by Jamye Doerfler. This Christmas devotional dives deep into the story of Jesus’s birth, dissecting it, and looking at it from varied angles, just like an investigative journalist. This book is a specialized experience that speaks directly to the hearts and minds of preteens and teenagers. This Advent is not just about counting down the days until Christmas; it’s about counting down the days while investigating and learning about the true meaning of the season.
As a former middle school and high school teacher at a Christian school, this book appealed to me. There did not seem to be any devotional Advent books geared toward preteens and teens. I have gone through my fair share of Advent storybooks with my now 10-year-old son, but as I looked ahead to what would be fitting for our family as he got older, I loved the concept of this book. The investigative journalism aspect was exciting. The lessons are short and sweet, and connected with preteens and teens in witty and thought-provoking ways.
Publisher’s Synopsis of The Advent Investigator:
The Advent Investigator challenges pre-teens, young teens and families to look behind the scenes and dig into the facts and events that led to Jesus’s birth using the who, what, where, when, why, and how of investigative reporting. Students (and adults!) will be led to “connect the dots” of history, prophecy, and the Incarnation as they study and then apply what they’ve learned to their own lives.
Each of the twenty lessons and four bonus lessons contain rich, impactful application points, grounded in solid theology but written in language young believers can grasp. Discussion questions and guided prayer prompts create opportunities for families to work through the content together. The concluding devotional reviews the findings and invites readers to investigate their own relationship with Christ.
We recently interviewed the author, Jamye Doerfler, about her experience with writing and publishing The Advent Investigator. We love a great author interview as it is a way to showcase to our students how they can become writers themselves. Jamye had a lot of insight for us as a mom of three boys herself and as a writer.
OWL: How did the idea of The Advent Investigator originally begin? Why did you specifically choose to write an Advent devotional?
Jamye: When my children were little, I had downloaded a printable list of 24 readings to do over Advent and put each on a slip of paper inside of a little house with doors you’d open each day. These were very simple scriptures from the account of Jesus’ birth, and they were perfect when my boys were just learning how to read.
When we outgrew them, I came up with my own list of scriptures to read each day, and used the investigative questions to guide those choices (who, what, where, when, why and how?). The second year we used these questions, I began to wonder how I could share this resource with other families. Not only the scriptures, but also researched, thoughtful explanations with personal applications. And so the book was born, though it has certainly changed a lot during revisions with the publisher, all for the better.
OWL: What is your background in fiction writing? How did you get started in writing?
Jamye: I have always been a creative writer, starting with poetry and short stories in high school and college. After getting a BA in English, I got an MFA in Fiction, which meant spending three years writing and revising and learning the craft of writing. As my thesis, I wrote a novel. Fiction is my first love, but this project has been a wonderful opportunity to use my gifts in a new way.
OWL: How long did it take for you to research and write the initial first draft of the book?
Jamye: I wish I could remember! I believe I wrote the first draft in real time, over the course of December. After that, the revisions stretched out over the course of a year.
OWL: What was your main purpose or goal in writing this book?
Jamye: There’s nothing else like this on the market. When I have tried to read advent devotionals that were just right for my family with pre-teens and early teens, nothing was just right. Even though my children are excellent readers and are used to having theological conversations in the house (due to my husband being a pastor), they wouldn’t get much out of devotions that were truly written for adults. And of course they were beyond the simple devotionals for younger children.
If we were struggling to find the right fit, others must be too. My goal was to provide a just-right resource for families with children in middle school (give or take a year).
OWL: How was your faith impacted through writing this book?
Jamye: I enjoyed working on each and every devotion, but the ones that most struck me were those that pointed to Jesus as the humble king. In fact, that was the first name for the devotional! Whenever I spent time reflecting on what Jesus gave up in order to be part of humanity, including living a humble life and enduring an excruciating death for me, I was moved to tears.
Now that the book is published, my faith continues to be impacted as I walk the journey of trusting the Lord with the outcome. I pray that He will get this into the hands of the people who need it, and do my best to follow His lead for the rest of my writing life.
OWL: How and why did you choose the theme of investigative journalism?
Jamye: As I mentioned before, using the investigative questions was simply a way to bring structure to what scriptures I wanted my boys to read over the month of December. It wasn’t until CDM read an early draft that they suggested going all-in on the theme of investigative journalism. This was a wonderful idea that gave a new depth to the project and offered ways to connect the nativity story to other aspects of life.
OWL: Explain to us the process of getting your book published.
Jamye: As I mentioned earlier, I knew that because I hadn’t been building a platform (or online presence) in Christian writing, it would be difficult to get buy-in from large publishing houses. CDM, which is the publishing house affiliated with my husband’s denomination (Presbyterian Church in America), exists to provide excellent resources that Christians need. They are more concerned with the ministry than with the bottom line. So they were willing to take on an unknown person like myself, because they believed that the book was a necessary resource that would fill a hole.
I filled out their submission form online, which provided an overview of the book. I emailed a sample of the book, and they had it reviewed by a handful of people who would be able to judge it well. With their feedback, I continued revising and re-submitted a sample. After that, they offered me a contract for the complete manuscript.
Because CDM is primarily only a print publisher, I decided to self-publish an e-book version of the devotional as well. I want the book to be as available to as many people as possible, and some people prefer e-books! It also allows families with multiple Kindles to have it on each device, and those with vision impairment can either increase the font size, or have the book read to them. Again, my husband has been critical in getting this done, but we thought it was an important investment of time.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia: ChatGPT wrote my title! I really dislike coming up with titles, so my inaugural use of generative AI was to get a list of title ideas. Even after also brainstorming with my family, the title I liked best was one from ChatGPT.
OWL: Once you started working with your publishing company, what was that process like? How long was this process?
Jamye: When publishing with one of the “Big 5” houses, once a contract is signed, the book is likely to be on shelves 18 to 24 months later. With CDM, a very small publisher, it has just been a year since I initially submitted my idea. We have gone back and forth three or so times with revisions, and countless numbers of times with small edits and questions!
OWL: What would you like to say to any student who would like to write and publish a book?
Jamye: If you hope to publish a book someday, the two most important characteristics to have are discipline and receptiveness to feedback. Writing a book takes a lot of discipline. A lot of time working on a manuscript even though no one else is waiting for it. Working regularly even when “inspiration” hasn’t struck. Set some sort of schedule or goal, and stick to it as much as you can until you get that full first draft complete.
Then, you’ll need to find some outside readers and be receptive to their feedback. Keep an open mind when they point out things they think aren’t working. It’s normal to feel defensive at first, but give yourself a couple of days to sit on it and think about it, and often you’ll find there is truth in what they said, and it will only make your writing stronger.
OWL: What would you like to say to any preteen or teen struggling with their faith?
Jamye: First, I would take those struggles to God in prayer. You can’t hide anything from God, so just go ahead and admit in prayer that you don’t know what you believe right now. Invite Him to show you the Truth through the Bible, your pastor or youth pastor, or family members. Believe that He will answer a prayer for increased faith!
Second, I would look for either people or books that can answer the questions you have. If you’re able to bring them to your parents, start there. If you’re not, then a leader at your church is a good place to go. If there’s no one in your life you can go to, try a good book. This article lists a number of books that can be understood by teens and explains a lot of objections to Christianity.
OWL: We greatly appreciate you answering these questions for us!
We recently had the privilege and opportunity to make a free workbook and an Enhanced Version Workbook for The Advent Investigator to be used by students, homeschoolers, co-ops, Sunday School classes, and Bible classes.
The first level of the workbook contains two pages for each lesson/section that is in The Advent Investigator. These pages have the same questions, prayer prompts, and *For Further Investigation” sections that are at the end of each chapter. We created space for answers to be written in the handbook. We also added a Connections segment in which students answer questions that relate to the lesson and that also relate to them specifically. Additionally, there is space for students to write their thoughts and feelings after prayer and a place to record and learn important vocabulary from each lesson.
The second level of the workbook is the Enhanced Version. It has everything that is in the first level but added sections such as an Enrichment area, which seeks to really dive into an element that the lesson mentions. It is cross-curricular and explores geography, science, history, or deeper biblical themes. The Enhanced Version also contains an Artistic Expression section in which students memorize and color Bible verses and have a place to illustrate their thoughts. There is a Newspaper Article Project with everything a student would need to complete their own investigative newspaper article. The Enhanced Version also has a *For Further Investigation Notebook. There are extra resource pages and last but not least, there are crossword puzzles and word searches to help review the vocabulary used.
Both are available for digital download. Grab yours today!
As the holiday season approaches, consider grabbing The Advent Investigator for a preteen or teen in your life. Let this devotional book be a source of reflection, joy, and hope as they embark on a journey of faith, exploration, and discovery. Investigate the true meaning of Christmas and share the gift of hope with the next generation.