The story of the Purple Puzzle Tree

It all began more than fifty years ago. Norman Habel was asked to write 36 exciting Bible stories for some Grade 2 children at Bethel Primary School in St Louis. The idea was to explore one story each week for 36 weeks of the school year. Each story was to be engaging and fun, as well as reflect an important moment in the overall sequence of stories in the Bible.

Norman Habel wrote the stories in the late 1960s. They were trialled at Bethel School and eventually published in the early 1970s by Concordia Publishing House in sets. Each set comprised 6 books and a vinyl recording. The artist for the books was Tom Roberts.

The stories were told, performed and discussed in schools, Sunday schools and families across America and beyond. Well over a million copies were sold as more and more people became engaged in the big puzzle, the mysterious plan of God for God’s people that is found in the Bible.

In many countries children were soon saying ‘CHURPLE CHURPLE’ as they heard the first few stories, sang about Jittery Jonah or pretended to dance like Little Allelu. Norman Habel recalls standing, quite recently, before church groups in America and saying ‘CHURPLE’ much to the delight of grown children. The memory of the stories lives on.

The Tree is an important part of the tradition. Churches or schools would construct a large tree in the chancel or classroom and gradually add images from each story to the tree. Children would also add their own names to leaves on the tree so that they also became part of God’s plan. The tree is also important because it suggests that the stories are like leaves or pieces that grow into a tree and help to solve the puzzle of God’s plan for the world.

Eventually Concordia Publishing House stopped printing the original books. Now the Lutheran Church of Australia is taking the initiative to revive The Purple Puzzle Tree as a DVD with Norman Habel, now fifty years later, as The Old Storyteller sitting in front of a huge purple tree with leaves that bear images from the stories.

Of course, we have modified the language in some of the stories. After all, fifty years ago we tended to be sexist and portray God as an old man. You will notice in Story One that the God is present in the form of young Allelu, the angel. Throughout the Bible God comes as an angel or speaks through an angel.

We hope The Purple Puzzle Tree lives on in this new format as children young and old explore the stories of the Bible and find both enjoyment and meaning in them. We invite Purple Puzzle Tree lovers from years gone by to encourage their children or grandchildren to have fun with the stories they once knew so well.