I picked up the first book reluctantly. Was I really going to spend my children’s nap time reading children’s fiction? But The Wingfeather Saga had been recommended to me by so many fans that I eventually joined the throngs of Christian adults and kids who’ve enjoyed the series.

From the start, author Andrew Peterson captivated my imagination, building a world I could recognize while pushing the limits of familiarity. Aerwier has a bookshop with a nerdy owner; the three Igby siblings enjoy exploring its packed shelves. So normal! But just across the street is a city prison run by lizard monsters called Fangs. Not so normal.

The Wingfeather books have since been adapted into an animated series; the second season premiered at the beginning of this month, with new episodes released weekly. I remember the Christian animations from my childhood—Bibleman, Psalty the Singing Songbook, and VeggieTales —as either simplistic retellings of Bible stories or moralizing lessons. These shows did a fine job of teaching me what God expected. But they didn’t captivate me with the idea of following Jesus.

The animated Wingfeather, by contrast, is lighthearted and sincere, witty without resorting to gimmicks. It cultivates endearing characters without creating familiar Christian caricatures.

What makes a good Christian children’s show? Here are four things The Wingfeather Saga does well that I hope would be true of any Christian program that I watch with my kids.

The show invites kids along for the adventure.

One of the quickest ways to bore kids is to talk at them. Shows that offer not much more than monologues, telling children what they should think and do, will rarely capture their hearts.

This principle of active participation applies across our discipleship efforts. We find that when kids are invited into the life of the church—praying, reading, and serving—Sunday worship becomes more than rote attendance. When they’re invited into daily rhythms of confession, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness (and when it’s not only asked of them, but expressed to them by an adult who is in the wrong), they grow to see sin and reconciliation differently.

By inviting kids into the life of faith—by taking them along with us, rather than just telling them what to do or think—we are much more likely to capture their hearts, rather than to just dictate their behavior.

Season 2 of The Wingfeather Saga does an incredible job (even better than season 1) of inviting kids to come along for the ride as characters explore, face challenges, and learn lessons. As the adventure unfolds, kids are invited to use their imaginations. They’ll watch wide-eyed as the Igby children encounter a massive sea monster who’s seemingly called out of the deep by the youngest’s singing; they’ll shudder as they’re chased up trees by toothy cows that live in the darkness of the woods. They’ll enter a world of creative play, even as they learn eternal truths about the world, themselves, and God.

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The show draws a clear distinction between good and evil.

The Wingfeather Saga has good characters who live honorably and bad characters who prize selfish gain. Evil is represented physically; the oppressive Fangs drip with venom. They delight in taking the lives and livelihoods of innocent Glipwood residents, bringing to mind the one who comes to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

At the same time, those who seek to live for the larger kingdom—like the Igby grandfather who’s never forgotten all that the Fangs took from his family—are well-worn and well-traveled, with clear eyes and weathered hands. These characters either recall or learn the freedom that is possible, inching their way toward it even as they work their gardens day after day.

By making good and evil obvious, young viewers are more easily able to conceptualize the two kingdoms at war in Wingfeather, and to connect the lives of the characters they wish to emulate with their own daily experiences. The Igby children rebel against injustice, loyally fight to protect each other, and maintain the good name of their family—worthy virtues for young and old alike.

“Good” doesn’t necessarily mean “tough” or “popular.” The Wingfeather Saga helps kids understand that some of the most courageous characters aren’t the most physically capable, like little sister Leeli, whose mangled leg causes her to limp. Peet the Sock Man’s off-putting personality has estranged him from society; but his valiant efforts to protect and aid the Igby children reveal that he’s merely misunderstood.

The show acknowledges the complexity of the human heart.

Even as we want our kids to understand the world’s moral order, we also want to acknowledge the complexity of the human heart. We all struggle with longings for approval, comfort, and ease, even at the cost of our dignity or another’s well-being. And yet all of us, no matter our failings, can also be redeemed.

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In Wingfeather season 2, townspeople grapple with their own self-seeking tendencies; they’re faced with difficult choices between doing what is right, and doing what feels good in the moment. They learn that sometimes leaders are afraid, and that showing bravery in one moment is not a guarantee of bravery in the next.

By resisting oversimplification, we help children understand the temptations they themselves are likely to face—sometimes unsuccessfully. Will they speak out when someone is being treated unfairly, even if it might turn them into the target? Will they risk their own comfort to protect someone they love? Will they welcome those others exclude, willing to be associated with the lowly and outcast? No matter how often they miss the opportunity God has given them, his grace abounds.

The show introduces new questions, even as it answers others.

One of the greatest strengths of The Wingfeather Saga is its ability to lay some essential groundwork about God and human nature while introducing other questions for kids to explore.

Season 2 may leave its young viewers with a sense of confidence in their ability to identify evil. But it may also leave them uneasy about the darkness that hides in all of our hearts. The show might demonstrate that living with integrity often comes with a reward in the end. But is integrity “worthwhile” when the payoff doesn’t seem obvious or inevitable?

One key way that kids grow in their faith is by asking some of these more complicated questions. In the same way that we don’t want to talk at children about who God is, we also don’t want to answer all the questions for them at once. Of course, as parents, caregivers, teachers, or other important adults in their lives, we want to be a source of confident reassurance. But we also want to empower and equip them to do some wondering on their own, without too quickly offering solutions.

Many Christians are understandably hesitant about television as a discipleship tool, and I get it. With two little ones in my care, we intentionally limit screen time and more often than not opt for books over TV.

But there is something powerful that happens when adults and children sit down to enjoy a show together; and that would be my encouragement for those thinking about queuing up Wingfeather or other Christian programming. Follow up your viewing with discussion; listen to the scenes and details that resonated with your kids, and share your favorite parts, too. Formation can happen anywhere—even on the couch.

Amy Gannett is a writer and Bible teacher passionate about equipping Christians to study the Bible through The Bible Study Schoolhouse. She is also the founder of Tiny Theologians, a line of discipleship tools for children.