***Looking to buy a few books for Christmas gifts? On this small business Saturday, I highly encourage you to buy directly from the publisher or from your local Catholic bookstore! Many of them are also offering great deals this weekend, too. (I've linked directly to the publisher's websites below, but these books are also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) ;)
An Interview with Author Maura Roan McKeegan
I have long loved Maura Roan McKeegan's books, especially her Old and New Series that so beautifully brings Biblical typology to life for children. I was so honored to get to ask Maura a few questions recently about writing books for Catholic kids! Maura's books include Where is Jesus Hidden?, The End of the Fiery Sword, Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb, Building the Way to Heaven, and Conrad and the Wildfire.
Q: In Where is Jesus Hidden? and your other children's books, you do a beautiful job of communicating rich theological truths to little readers. What are some ways you think parents and teachers can share deep topics with young children?
A: Thank you! I think one of the best things parents and teachers can do is to cultivate their own sense of wonder about the Faith. When we read fascinating books and listen to captivating speakers, they create a spark within us. That spark can be passed on to children when we share our enthusiasm about our discoveries with them.
All of my children’s books began with me learning something about the Faith that struck me as fascinating (like biblical typology), or inspiring (like the story of St. Conrad of Piacenza). When adults are enthusiastic about a topic, they can impart that enthusiasm to children in a real and meaningful way. Then, instead of trying to feed children information because we think they “ought to know it,” we convey exciting truths about deep topics because we find it all just so amazing and we want to share it with the children in our lives!
My favorite college professor, who taught a course in elementary reading education, used to say, “Enthusiasm for reading is caught, not taught.” In the same way, I think enthusiasm for the Faith is caught, not taught. Children have an incredible capacity for understanding deep truths—in some ways, even more than adults do, because of the purity of their hearts. When we, as parents and teachers, fill our own hearts with Scripture, stories of the saints, good books, and interesting conversations, these things will give us the “good treasure of the heart,” from of the abundance of which “the mouth speaks” to children. (Luke 6:45)
Q: What are some practical applications or discussions you hope occur after reading Where is Jesus Hidden?
A: I hope that reading Where is Jesus Hidden? will help children find the hidden Jesus in their everyday lives. When I was growing up, even though I had a Catholic education, I had no idea that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, let alone that we could find Him in the poor or the sick. (I don’t fault my teachers—I probably wasn’t listening!) These were concepts I didn’t understand until I was an adult, but they are well within the grasp of children.
Mother Teresa is my inspiration for finding the hidden Jesus. She said, “In the Eucharist, I see Christ in the appearance of bread. In the slums, I see Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor. The Eucharist and the poor are but one love for me.”
It is my hope that this book will open children’s eyes to see, as Mother Teresa did, the many ways that the hidden Jesus is with us. I also hope that hearing and reading the words of Scripture will create a familiarity with the Bible that children can bring into adulthood. I hope that when children hear these same verses in other places, the verses will resonate with new understanding because of the discoveries the children encountered in Where is Jesus Hidden?, and that those Scriptural connections will last a lifetime.
Q: What do you look for in quality Catholic children's books?
A: In Catholic children’s books about Scripture, it’s important to me that the Bible verses are authentic and not changed or embellished. If Scripture is paraphrased, it’s important to me that it stays as close as possible to the actual text and doesn’t take liberties with the words and messages of the Bible. Every word of Scripture is packed with meaning. When we stay close to the actual words, we stay close to Christ.
In Catholic children’s books about saints or fictional stories, I look for good storytelling that:
--captures children’s attention (no one wants to read dry or boring books!)
--imparts truth in inspiring and unique ways without being didactic
--trusts children’s ability to internalize the story without watering down content
--respects the child’s intelligence and doesn’t talk down to children in a condescending way
--is accompanied by endearing illustrations
This article that I wrote for the St. Paul Center dives more deeply into the topic of reading spiritual books with children, with tips for parents, teachers, and others: Reading with Love: Tips for Sharing Spiritual Books with Children
An Interview with Author Katie WarnerKatie Warner's contribution to Catholic books for kids continues to amaze me! She brings the truth of the Sacraments and sanctity and more to such a relatable level for young children. I've always been so encouraged by her work and was thrilled to get to ask her a few questions about Catholic kids' books too! Her writing includes This is the Church, Lily Lolek, Future Saint, Fr. Ben Gets Ready for Mass, I Went to Mass, What Did I See, and board books like Kiddie Cat and The Word of the Lord. Her next title, Listening for God, is also available for preorder! (And she also has a whole series of books for adults on prayer, too.)
Q: This is the Church is a treasure among picture books! It shares the beauty of Salvation History in such an appropriate format for little readers. It seems to be a goal of First Faith Treasury books to present authentic teaching in an approachable way, even for preschoolers. How do you go about sharing the truths of the faith without watering them down?
A: I love this question. Our faith is so rich, and our children have the capacity for great understanding; it is our desire to create books that acknowledge these realities! We aim to publish books that children will want to read, because by their nature they are true, good, and beautiful -- qualities that any soul is drawn to regardless of age.
On a more practical note, I have a graduate degree in Catholic theology and have spent the better part of my life teaching the faith in some capacity, so I'd say that watering children's books down is not so much my challenge as is making them too rife with content or theology beyond a young child's age! But honestly, I find that our children and students, who were made by their Creator to know Him, are quite ready to scour depths of faith and mystery beyond what we might expect. It's incredible to hear from readers -- and to watch my own children -- fall in love with stories that don't talk down to them, but rather help form them into little disciples.
Q: Your books feature gorgeous illustrations, but each design is unique to the content of the book. How have you worked with your illustrators to create both images and text that enhance and build on one another?
A: I am blessed to work with the most amazing artists! In fact, I wouldn't be a children's book writer if it wasn't for my desire to see Meg Whalen's illustrations be enjoyed by kids around the world. She had been publishing small batches of her own illustrated books for years for family and friends' baptisms, birthdays, and other special celebrations, and I wanted her beautiful work to be more widely distributed. I knew I had the skills to arrange a publishing contract...and then along the way I discovered I loved writing children's books and that the Holy Spirit wanted this to happen for more reasons than I had originally planned!
But it is important to me that the illustrators bring a lot of their own creative talent to each book. The pictures tell the story as much, if not more, than the words do! After I finish a text, I like to let the illustrators (Meg Whalen or Amy Rodriguez have illustrated all of our current books, and Meg does the book design for all of them as well) take the lead in creating artwork for the book that expresses their own preferred style and enhances the text. We work together as the book progresses, in hopes that we can wed the text and the illustrations on each page beautifully, so that they are each a cohesive, mini work of art that make children and adults want to linger a bit as they read.
Meg and Amy are so incredibly talented that the whole process turns out to be so delightful, easy, and fun!
Q: What do you look for in quality Catholic children's books?
A: In addition to the qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty as I mentioned previously, a truly great Catholic children's book is captivating. It draws children to it. They want to reach for it from the shelf as they would its secular Barnes and Noble bestselling counterparts. It's okay for a Catholic children's book to be fun! To be creative. To be unique. To tell a great story. We started doing this work because we noticed that a lot of our Catholic children's books in the home had great content, but were missing that ... pizzaz? (to sound like a nerd)...that made us really look forward to reading them. I also think a quality Catholic children's book can foster experiences, discussions, and memories.
I've had so many teachers and parents tell me about their pastors' reading Father Ben Gets Ready for Mass to children and seeing the Mass and the priesthood come more alive for them through the special connection made through that interactive book. I've treasured stories of children who excitedly create their own club or litany of favorite saints and talk about their desire to become a saint someday after reading Lily Lolek, Future Saint. These anecdotes (along with hearing my own kids recite my books word for word by memory!) make my heart explode with joy and remind me that there are few things as treasured in childhood as a good book...so why not a good Catholic book? Even better, right?
Ok, and now for the GIVEAWAY!I just love my readers so much, and am so grateful for your support and encouragement. I'd love to send you one of Maura and one of Katie's books of your choice! Winner must be 18 or older and have a US mailing address (sorry, international friends!). Lots of ways to enter below, and the giveaway closes 12/5/20 at 12 a.m.
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