Kathryn Reetzke: Orthodox KidLit and God’s Saintly Friends

A warm welcome to guest poster Kathryn Reetzke, who’s sharing some reflections on her upcoming board book, God’s Saintly Friends, illustrated by Abigail Holt.

As a mother of four little ones (6 and under), Church School Director at our small parish in Bowling Green, KY, and a part-time history professor, my passions are rooted in education. Within these roles, I am constantly seeking curriculums and educational resources to use both at home and in Church School. There are a growing number of hands-on and engaging resources for Orthodox families, making it an exciting time to be a parent and Church School teacher. I appreciate all the resources being created by the many individual websites like Orthodox Pebbles, Draw Near Designs, ByziKids, and Sparks 4 Orthodox Kids. Even with the growing number of materials, I believe there are still some gaps that can be filled with meaningful and thought-provoking printed books for kids.

GETTING STARTED

At the beginning of the pandemic shut-downs, I was asked to join an Orthodox Children’s Writers and Illustrators group by Melinda. I was curious to see what ideas were circulating in the behind-the-scenes author and illustrator world of Orthodox publishing. I didn’t realize that by seeking what was missing in the market, I would be called to write a book of my own.

The idea for the board book God’s Saintly Friends came from thinking about available Orthodox books on friendship. I was familiar with some that have characters that are friends, such as Charlie Riggle’s Catherine’s Pascha and the Philo and the Superholies series, but I wanted to think of something that also brought in historic examples of Saints who were friends (history professor hat on).

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP

The pandemic also pushed me to reflect on the importance of holy friends and how we can care for each other while apart. From there I thought, surely saints like St. Perpetua and St. Felicity became friends in prison, both being young mothers and strong in their faith in Christ. I researched and got suggestions from friends about sets of Saints who were friends (such as one of my favorite stories, St. Sophrony and St. Porphryios, from illustrator Abigail Holt). I asked myself: How can I write something that gives both a historical precedence of Saints who had healthy friendships, while also teaching basic values of friendship? After writing my draft, getting editing advice, contacting my friend Abigail about artwork, and two denied submissions, I found a supportive publisher in Park End Books (Summer Kinard), who was equally excited about making this resource available to families.

I love that the availability of Orthodox toddler board books is growing, so that the littlest ones have books to look at during church and more importantly at home. I pray that this book helps parents engage with their children both about the Saints’ lives featured in the book and also about spiritual friendships. The growing experience of friendship through the lens of social media makes early childhood development of healthy friendships key to having healthy future leaders in the Church. This board book is written to appeal to a wide range of ages as the illustrations and text allow for extended discussions about the Saints with older children.

I hope you and your children, grandchildren, and/or godchildren enjoy God’s Saintly Friends together!

NOTE: You can preorder you copy of God’s Saintly Friends HERE.

ABOUT KATHRYN REETZKE

Kathryn is blessed to be a mother of four children 6 and under, an avid reader of both children’s books and adult literature, Church School Director and founder of the nursery program at Holy Apostles Orthodox Mission in Bowling Green, KY, and Adjunct Professor of History at WKU.  She also coordinates the yearly “Room in the Inn” program to help house the homeless in our sanctuary overnight during the Winter months. She has a passion for both education and almsgiving and prays her first book will bring both to our future Orthodox leaders.

Little Lost Nun in England

This review of Little Lost Nun comes from Anna-Maria. She is 10 years old, and she lives in Oxford, England. Here she is reading the book with her dog, Dodger.

Reading in the garden with Dodger

Anna-Maria writes:

Little Lost Nun is a book about feelings, actions and prayers. You can see how what the characters do relates to their feelings, and relates to what their personal experiences were and are in life.

It makes me think more about my actions and forgiving people who have done something wrong.

It makes me think about how prayers can be answered. God hears them but you can’t always tell that they are being answered.

The story is misty. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. At the same time the story is bold. All the characters are different from each other and I can imagine them very clearly.

It’s a really good book. I like it. At the end I turned the page to see if there was more. I was hoping there was.

#littlelostnun #summerofthelittlelostnun

After Rejection – Caroline Pavlakos

I was 17 years old and starting the College Road Trip journey. I wanted to go to college in Boston where my boyfriend (now husband) was at school, and how fun it would have been to be in the same city. I was so excited about attending college and learning how to live on my own, especially the opportunity about hopefully living in a new city for a few years. The most challenging point in thinking about where exactly to attend college was the fact that it had to have opportunities to attend smaller classes and a supportive Office of Disabilities because I had (and still have) a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes reading comprehension, test taking, following multistep directions, and navigating mathematics quite difficult and challenging for me.

Getting Started

Being the oldest of three children, I was motivated and driven to pave the way for my siblings on the whole process as I thought of it as a game. The SATs were taken, my major of Psychology was picked, and I was confident that I could go wherever I wanted as long as I did my research on the resources the colleges offered for me to be successful.

I was at Boston University at a college visit day, and the Director of Admissions said in her address to us that even if we did not get the chance to attend our first-choice college, “You will go to college. You will succeed. You bloom where you’re planted.” The Director of Admissions at Simmons College said something similar on our visit there later that weekend. That stuck with me that day and as we continued to visit colleges throughout the year in preparation for the fall of my Senior Year, when I tirelessly completed college applications.

Not as simple as it sounds…

Losing Hope

My plan for going to school in the city of Boston epically failed. I was waitlisted and received a letter to be accepted as a transfer student to one of the colleges I had my heart set on attending.  I received another rejection letter from another college I so badly wanted to attend.

Now those words came back and boomed in my head – “You bloom where you’re planted.”

I was so angry at those words. Furious, actually. How could this have happened? Those words meant everything to me that day I heard them. I felt they were meant for me, and I put so much hard work into making my application and college essay stand out.

I cried for days as I saw my friends running into school waving their acceptance letters over their heads and shouting how excited they were about getting into their top-choice schools. I fell into a rut, not talking much to anybody, sitting by myself at lunch, and cringing whenever I heard a teacher say, “When you’re in college…”

The letters of waitlisting and rejection kept rolling in as I applied to over 10 schools, most between my hometown of Brooklyn and in Boston. It was then I began applying to local smaller colleges close to home where I could commute on the subway.

Making a New Plan

I felt like having my learning disability kept me from doing everything I had planned to do, living on my own in a new city, being close to somebody I loved, and creating my own independence. But finally, a letter arrived and the first word was ‘Congratulations!’ I got accepted to one of the smaller schools I had applied to. Ultimately, as more letters of acceptance rolled in and my family and I discussed where I would attend, I chose Wagner College in the borough of Staten Island, NY. Wagner was closer to home, but my parents agreed to let me live on campus, and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity!

While Wagner wasn’t my top choice, I still ran into school waving that letter over my head and hugging my friends. That next fall. as I was checking my mailbox at school, a letter arrived from one of my former top-choice colleges, stating that they would love for me to join the class of 2012 the next semester as a transfer student. At that moment, I grappled with my emotions, reflecting on how happy I’d become but remembering how I had wanted to live in a new city. I prayed that night for God to extend His right hand down and guide me in the right direction.

Learning to Bloom

Rome

I continued my college journey at Wagner, declared my double major of Psychology and Education, and jumped right into college life and even studied abroad in Rome!  I ended up staying another 2 years after graduation for my master’s degree and worked in the Early Childhood Center on campus, my first teaching job ever.

As I continued my college years, “You bloom where you’re planted” boomed into my head. I joined a sorority, took on leadership positions in the clubs and organizations I was a part of, and jumped right into Student Teaching and academic honors. I had made my college a home and learned that no matter what happens about rejection, you will bloom where you’re planted. The seeds have been planted, you establish roots, and you will grow stronger.

Graduating!

Leveling Up

I learned this again when my husband received his first assignment as a Pastoral Assistant.  We moved into a small apartment, and I immediately began applying for teaching jobs. I was rejected more times than I can count and thought “Why? What do I NOT have that others do have? How could anybody say no to me?” Again, I cried and was angry that I’d spent so much time and energy creating my portfolio and studying for the 4 teaching exams I was required to take and pass. But I pushed through and finally landed a position where the hours were extensive and the pay was less than what I could be making elsewhere. However, it was in my field of education and the lessons I learned and the friends I made were the most valuable, and I fell in love with teaching all over again! A seed was planted in me to teach the youngest age group of toddlers, roots established moving up to PreK Lead Teacher and sending the students off to Kindergarten, and the blossoming came when we moved to Florida so my husband can be ordained a priest and I finally became a Public School teacher! 

Trust and Go Forward

Rejection is something that is human and happens to us all. At the end of the day, if there is only 1 spot left on a team and there are 100 people who yearn for and want that spot, 99 of us are going to walk away and bloom elsewhere. Christ says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I learned to lean on Christ and take His hand, and let Him lead me to a place where I will succeed and bear fruit. Christ sees and hears it all, rejection especially. It is hard and hurts for days, weeks, and sometimes years. He wants us to feel loved and wanted, not rejected. It’s almost like Him saying to us, “Yes, you really wanted to go to that school/wanted that position. There are others waiting for you.” The words “You bloom where you’re planted” remain with me. Gardens don’t take one day to bloom; they need water, soil, and somebody with a green thumb to tend and nurture them as Christ does for us. We have our hearts set on attending that top school and scoring that amazing new career and promotion, but as Christ’s branches, we might bloom elsewhere and many times in places where we never thought we could grow.

About Caroline

My name is Caroline Pavlakos, and I originally hail from Brooklyn, NY, but now live in the sunshine state of Florida. My husband Fr. Andrew and I serve the parish of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Port Richey, FL. We’re the proud parents of our beautiful baby boy, Kostantinos, who is almost one year old, and I enjoy spending time at the beach, baking chocolate chip cookies, and shopping. 

Go for Broke: Break the Rules – Bev. Cooke

It took four years and three tries before “Street Kid, Subway Cat” was ready to send to send out. The story was based on my brother-in-law’s experience of befriending and domesticating a feral cat who lived in a New York City subway station. He named her Gidget, and we met her on a visit to my brother-in-law. Well, if you can call a middle of the night tromp over my calves and a panicked flight when I lifted my hand to pet her as “meeting” a cat – because she was the definition of “scaredy cat.”

The book about Gidget and her adventures had gone from a picture book, which felt too cloying and sentimental, to a young adult novel that was too short on both words and plot to a mid-grade novel that felt about right. I sent it to my dream publisher, took a deep breath and began to wait.

The editor emailed within the promised time, which is unheard of in the children’s literature (kid lit) market; it’s almost an unwritten rule they’ll take practically forever, but even so, she rejected it. But, again breaking unwritten rules, the editor explained her reasons. She said the book was neither one thing nor the other. It didn’t feel like a mid-grade. Some of the subject matter was too mature and it begged for more plot and conflict, or it needed to be shorter and simpler. She suggested that I either make it a picture book or a young adult. But thanks for submitting, and we’d really like to see more of your work.

I took my courage in both hands, said a quick prayer, and picked up the phone. I got through to the editor with no problem, another first in the kid lit market. Normally, editors only talk to writers whose books they’ve accepted, not to us wanna-bes. We discussed the rejection in more detail. I decided to go for broke and ask the big, forbidden question. In kid’s lit, you NEVER, EVER, EVER ask the editor to reconsider a rewritten rejection. Never. It’s one of the real, written down in stone and cast in concrete rules. You suck it up and send the story elsewhere. But, I figured, what did I have to lose? The press had already said no, and they had said they liked and wanted to see more of my work. So I asked: if I rewrote the book as a young adult, taking her suggestions, would she reconsider it? It took some persuasion, but finally, she agreed.

I sat down to the work. During the rewrite, Gidget, the inspiration for the book, came to live with us. As fearful as ever, she found a refuge under my desk by the hot air register and took up residence while I wrote about her alter ego’s adventures.

She dozed there, warm and comfy, as I broadened and deepened the story, discovered new characters and lived in that world so strongly that finishing work each day felt like more like entering a fictional world than returning to real life. I felt as though I knew Candlewax and Little Cat, the two main characters, better than I knew myself. I finished it, sent the manuscript in and began, again, to wait.

Again, within their stated response time, the editor called. Another rule in kid’s lit: editors only phone you to offer you a contract, never to reject. When I heard Ms. Editor’s voice, my hope surged, and my hand on the phone trembled – this had been a rule breaking experience so far. Was this phone call going to break another one? I could see the news flash: Editor calls to reject author’s novel! Story at 11! But while Candlewax, Little Cat and I might have been rule breakers, Ms. Editor wasn’t, at least this time: she offered me a contract. The book was released as Feral because, Ms. Editor said, she, the author and every character in it were feral rule breakers.

About Bev. Cooke

Rejection is a fact of a writer’s life, whether you’re sending out your first or 100th manuscript. Bev. Cooke knows this from personal experience but even so, she’s been lucky enough to have several things make it into the world. Her latest efforts are included in the women’s devotional, Darkness is as Light, edited by Summer Kinard and published by Park End Books. She’s working on her fourth Akathist and a fantasy novel for mid-grade Orthodox kids. She and her husband attend All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria BC, Canada and are the
minions of Sampson, the household feline.