Today, I joyfully announce the #SummeroftheLittleLostNun! Together with Park End Books, I’m inviting children (and grown ups) to draw their own little nun and share pictures of where she goes. Does she go to church with you? On vacation? Is she playing near the creek (don’t fall in, little nun!)? Maybe yours will enjoy the garden. Mine does!
Making Your #littlelostnun
You are very welcome to draw your own nun, paint one on a clothespin, or sew one out of felt or other fabric. Variety is one of the great beauties of creation, and I hope to see variety in these little friends. If you need an outline to get you started, Jack Naasko (an artistic friend) kindly created this downloadable template. Color it in, cut it out, and let the adventure begin!
#littlelostnun goes traveling
Some friends of mine were traveling recently, and they created little nuns on the road! Here they are, the first people (and nuns!) to participate in #summerofthelittlelostnun !
Just looking at these pictures makes me happy!
How to participate
Everyone is welcome to join in! Here’s how you do it.
1 – Make your little nun. Draw your own or use the template.
2 – Take her on adventures. Take pictures of her wherever she goes!
3 – Share your pictures, and use the hashtag #summerofthelittlelostnun so that everyone participating can enjoy them. You are also welcome to send them to me. I will be publishing as many as I can on this blog! Use the contact form to get in touch or find me on Facebook.
4 – Another reason to send in your pictures? Park End Books will be offering a 10% OFF coupon for everyone who participates.
I can’t wait to see your pictures! May the #littlelostnun find herself in many good places, with good friends!
My heart is FULL of joy. Below is a photo the publisher sent me of the final front cover printed out on real paper, so I could see it “in real life.” It’s one of several ways the publisher and illustrator have led me and my story more deeply into the human experience.
Today, by the grace of God and Summer’s excellent gifts as a book midwife, Little Lost Nun is available for preorder. I hope you will take a minute of stillness to look at the two human beings in the picture above. Look at Gerontissa’s face, and the way her whole being yearns over this little girl. And look at Tabitha, who has almost nothing, clasping her first and greatest treasure in her shaky little hands.
And this is Nina, the second protagonist from Little Lost Nun. Here you see Nina’s mama comforting her at the end of a sad day.
That makes this a picture of Black Americans as main characters in an Orthodox children’s book.
I credit the editor, Summer Michelle Kinard, and the illustrator, David Moses, with the final conception of Nina and her mama, and of Tabitha on the cover image above. In my mind’s eye, they were smaller and farther away, their color and experiences made slightly vague by their continued existence in my imagination. It’s an odd thing to say, but I feel David read and drew the story in the present. He would. It’s the perpetual mystery of illustration that no one sees back into the author’s imagination. The artist depicts only what he reads.
But I did know that for this story, I wanted the little girl who was brown to be the one who had everything, the one standing for normal, joyful life, not the one in need of rescue. And I wanted that to be true without the book being “about race.” Little Lost Nun is not about race. The character descriptions just tell you what the people look like.
Although I welcome the intention and effort that goes into making children’s books more diverse, I especially look forward to the day when we no longer do that “on purpose.” Sooner or later, all kinds of people will appear in children’s books because that’s how we see the world, not because we carefully included one of each kind. Sooner or later, we’ll reach the point where brown skin in a book is not always a plot point or a mission, not the main reason the story is told. That will be the day we’ve accepted the many skin colors God gave us. It will be the day we can give brown children books about brown children because the story is good, not as a way to support them in their otherness.
Perhaps that will never happen. But I’d like to remember it as a possibility.
This morning, I signed a contract with Park End Books for a story called Little Lost Nun. I’m very happy!
Little Lost Nun began as a short story, nearly a decade ago. I set myself the task of writing about a conflict in which there is no antagonist. I remembered a professor of Romantic Literature telling our class at university that “the bad guy defeats the good guy” is not tragedy, not in its purest form. He said real tragedy is a conflict between two people who are good but still in conflict because of something inherent in their nature or situation. The “good guy against the good guy” is far more tragic. This perspective has remained with me, and sometimes haunted me, ever since.
I don’t mean to say Little Lost Nun is a tragedy. It is not! But it begins in a conflict between two protagonists. The antagonist has very little to do with it.
That was the original short story, and I shared it at a women’s retreat I lead at a parish on Tacoma, WA. We spent the day talking about my professor’s definition of tragedy and exploring the larger question of whether tragedy is possible to a Christian mindset. For example, how does a belief in the resurrection impact our ideas about what is tragic? It was a fascinating day.
The little nun stayed with me after the short story was written. I revised her story once or twice, and it began to seem that it was more than a short story. It wasn’t a picture book, but there wasn’t much scope for it as anything else unless it was longer. I began to wonder what the story would be if it were longer.
The little nun sat on my desk, in my files, at the edge of my imagination. Months passed.
One day, I wrote her story without attaching it to any other story. I freed it from Sam and Saucer and the idea of a picture book. That went much better.
But it’s still not a conventional story. It’s a story for children, but also adults. It’s sad but also happy. It needed a good home, and no home presented itself to me for a time.
I wrote some other books and finished them. They got contracts, and I felt that my desk was cleared and I could move on to the next adventure.
But the little nun was still there.
Sometimes, the answer to things pops up right in front of you.
Not long ago, Summer Kinard, one of my co-authors for Seven Holy Women, launched a publishing company called Park End Books. I was happy about that. We need more publishers who are friendly to Christian books from an Orthodox perspective. So much of Christian publishing in the United States is heavily Protestant, and many secular publishers aren’t open to books with even subtle Christian themes.
Park End Books began releasing titles soon after launch. The covers drew me in, and I was impressed with the books’ creativity and innovation.
Just as I was deciding that Little Lost Nun would likely never find a home, I happened to read the Manuscript Wish List on the Park End website. It struck me immediately that this might be where my little lost nun belonged.
I’m grateful to say that Park End Books agreed with me – hence signing the contract this morning. I’m looking forward to this project very much – to the editing, the polishing, the enchantment of watching art and design added to the story, and that moment that never grows old when I get to hold this story in my hands as a published book.
In the meantime, I drew a little nun of my own and took her out in the sunshine for pictures to celebrate the occasion.
May God bless the work of our hands and hearts and words.
Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a toddler-friendly retelling of a story from the life of Saint Ia of Cornwall. Children will sympathize with Ia, who was left behind by her friends because they thought she was too young to be a missionary. But something amazing happened, just when she was on the point of giving up.
Who was Saint Ia?
Saint Ia was an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. She is believed by some to have been a princess, but the dream closest to her heart was to preach the word of God in England. Ia arrived in Cornwall (spoiler alert!) through divine intervention, and the modern-day town and parish of St. Ives are named for her. In fact, the older Cornish name of the town is Porth Ia, meaning “Ia’s cove.” You can learn more about St. Ives Church here.
Making the book
One of my favorite parts of this project has been working with illustrator Kristina Tartara. Her enthusiasm matched mine, and she brought so much loving attention and creativity to the project. For example, it was Kristi’s idea to include the three little friends who keep Saint Ia company in the story, reflecting all her emotions on their expressive faces. Through many conversations, shared research, sketches, and revisions, Kristi brought the story to life.
A special part of the project that was completely new to me was the SONG! Composer Natalie Wilson wrote the music, I wrote the words, and Natalie recorded it. You can find the sheet music HERE. The recording will be available shortly – I’ll update this post as soon as it releases.
I look forward to seeing Saint Ia Rides a Leaf in the hands of many children, whether they are old enough to pick out words or cuddled up (and probably wiggling) in the arms of those who love to read to them. Like our own lives, the lives of the saints are full of stories – high points and sad days and the train of teachable moments God arranges for us on the path of salvation. I am thankful for Saint Ia’s persistence, and for all the good gifts that come from making children’s books.
Seven Holy Women is a one-of-a-kind journey into the lives of one modern reader and seven women saints. Created as both a deeply personal and enriching communal experience, this unique tool speaks directly to its reader, drawing her into the lives of these holy women as it prepares her to relate her own story in the book’s final chapter.
Each of the first seven sections of the book includes a story from a saint’s life; contextual information about the saint’s life; a reflection on ways the reader and the saint intersect on their journeys; personal surveys for the reader and a friend to complete; and a journal prompt that encourages the reader to explore and document her encounter with themes from the saint’s life.
In the final section, the reader will weave together the varied strands she’s identified by stepping into the stories of seven other women, meditating on the holiness she seeks for herself and the obstacles and inspirations of the life in which her quest unfolds.
This book grew out of a short-story binge that occupied cold winter evenings about a year ago. As it grew, I invited a group of writer friends into the book, offering each of them the saint of her choosing. These friends are (clockwise from top left) Anna Neill, (me!), Georgia Briggs, Molly Sabourin, Katherine Hyde, Laura Jansson, Summer Kinard, and Melissa Naasko. The union and distinction of their strong and beautiful voices make this book special.
Writing board books is a little like math or music for me. I love it! I love gazing at the entire story in my head, and then pouring it into just a few hundred chosen words. And saying the words out loud, nodding along, hitting a pencil to the desk, listening for beat and tripping tongue moments, pressing all the meaning and metaphor and allusion into those few, chosen words. Saint stories are fertile ground for this musical math. Sometimes only a few words of story are known, sometimes there are many and it is a greater labor to fit them into the tiny book. I love doing it.
I just experienced a special moment in my writing journey. It’s just me and my office, my computer, books, papers, assorted pencils. But on my screen is an incredible review of my new book, Painting Angels.
The review is from a woman who blogs at Relished Living. Her name is Erica, and she felt Painting Angels raises and answers questions that are all around us in this moment, the historical moment in which the book is being published. Her words blew me away. I have nothing else to say except that I hope you will read what she wrote.
Painting Angels has arrived in the warehouse and in the publisher’s store. It’s official, announced release date is this coming Tuesday, July 21. But friends, you are more than welcome to get your copy any minute now! THE BOOK IS HERE!
This week, I shared the first letter and the number of letters in each of the names of the seven women saints who are part of my next book, a storytelling journal I wrote with seven friends. Here’s what the clues looked like.
The guesses were interesting, and I learned the names of saints I haven’t heard of yet! It was fascinating to see which of our seven saints are known and unknown. Today, I announced the correct answers. How many of these saints do you know?
This book grew out of a series of short stories, which I wrote because of a long-held sense that the lives of saints have a lot of story potential! I browsed long lists of saints and their stories, looking for incidents in their lives that leaped out at me as unusual, thought-provoking, picturesque – all the things you look for in a good short story. As I wrote, I realized that my short stories were trying to be a book. But the idea of writing the whole thing myself made me so tired!
At this point, I embarked on what I like to call the Holy Spirit Theory of Writing – in which you let the book be what it wants to be and follow along in a spirit of joyful curiosity. I realized that I could ask friends to help me write the book, and after staring at my list of saint names and daydreaming for a bit, I asked the friends who seemed to go with the saints.
I’m so glad I did! This is seven times the book it would have been if I had written it all myself. And it was exciting and mysterious to see the ways that the seven saints matched the women writing about them. In every case, there was some aspect of that particular woman that was drawn out and filled with light by the saint she was writing about. I can’t wait till you read this book!! In one case, we even decided that the woman writing looked a lot like the portraits we found of the saint she was writing about.
Beauty leads to beauty, and love to love. Writing the book together is drawing us closer to each other, and I think also closer to the saints we chose to meet in our writing. It’s the beginning of many conversations, not the least of which is an exploration of creativity, or what might be called an educated imagination, in our life of faith.