Board Book Story of Saint Eleazar of Anzersk

I’m so happy to announce that Saint Eleazar Fills His Cups is now available for pre-order! Illustrated by my wonderful friend and board-book partner Kristina Tartara, this is the second in what’s becoming a series of saint stories for the littlest believers. Saint Ia Rides a Leaf was our first. We’re excited that these books are finding a home at SVS Press!

Saint Eleazar was a monk who lived in 17th-century Russia. He began monastic life at Solovetsky Monastery, where he was tonsured by igumen Saint Irenarchus. Saint Eleazar was a gifted wood carver, and you can still see his work in the monastery church today.

Solovetsky Monastery stands on its namesake island, which is part of the Solovki archipelago in the White Sea, in northern Russia. But after a time, Saint Eleazar asked the igumen’s blessing to travel to nearby Anzersk Island, to live alone and pray. The igumen granted his blessing, and Eleazar set off.

Anzersk Island in the 17th century was uninhabited, covered in forest, and surrounded by water. There were no towns with shops and no farms to provide food for Eleazar. How would he feed himself? How could he stay alive alone on the island?

Saint Eleazar Fills His Cups is the simple and lovely story of how the saint answered that question. It’s a story about praying to God and using your gifts. In a way, it’s a story about stewardship, a reminder of the miracles we are sometimes blessed to offer one another.

You will love the illustrations. Once again, Kristina has brought the characters and setting lovingly to life, including some animal friends who might have watched Saint Eleazar as he prayed and worked on Anzersk Island. I never get tired of working with her. I love seeing the life and color and depth of my story grow and blossom as she creates the pictures. In children’s books, the pictures are almost more important than the words.

Saint Eleazar Fills His Cups is available for pre-order from SVSPress HERE. It will release this spring, and thereafter will be available from SVSPress, the Ancient Faith Store, and Amazon.

Where to Buy Orthodox Children’s Books

I’d love to browse Orthodox children’s books in a cozy stone cottage. Sunlight would gleam through the mullioned windows, and the books would be neatly arranged on a home-built wooden farm table. Kittens would scamper under foot, and the breeze would bring garden scents through the open half door.

In real life, I’m thankful that Orthodox children’s books can be purchased in a variety of places, for those who never find the stone cottage of my imaginings. Most book sales occur in one of three ways, and I’ll discuss the benefits and limitations of those options here.

AMAZON

You know that’s the first place that came to mind. Isn’t it always?

Yes, you can purchase many Orthodox children’s books from Amazon, even some that may be out of print. Behemoth that it is, Amazon can offer you every amenity, free shipping, high speed, and considerable selection.

BUT…

If you have a choice, Orthodox publishers and authors agree – we’d rather you bought our books directly from the publisher. Amazon takes a bite out of every sale, and that reduces the payment to the publisher and author. One of the most powerful ways to support the genre of Orthodox children’s literature (and it needs our support now as it’s beginning to blossom) is to pay the people who create it directly.

Your Parish Bookstore

This is a wonderful option, although it’s not available to everyone. If your parish does have a book table or bookstore, make that your first stop when shopping for Orthodox children’s books. Your parish likely has a wholesale account with one of the Orthodox publishers. That means they purchase the books at a discounted rate and then resell them to you at the recommended retail price. Your purchase is thereby supporting your parish, the Orthodox publisher, and the author. Not only do you get a beautiful, faithful book for your little one, you have the satisfaction of supporting three good causes at once!

Direct from the Orthodox Publisher

Full disclosure: as you know if you follow this blog, I work for an Orthodox publisher! But I’ve also been published by two other Orthodox publishers, so I know this little world very well and can tell you that the companies who inhabit it are all worthy of your attention.

Perhaps the most wonderful way (other than that imaginary cottage) to purchase Orthodox children’s books is directly from the publisher. You’ll have access to their full selection, their dedicated customer service team, and other useful and beautiful Orthodox books and products in their webstore. Below is a list of Orthodox webstores hosted by these publishers.

  1. Ancient Faith Store: This one comes first because I work for Ancient Faith and have been published by them many times. In my view, they are the biggest thing on the Orthodox kidlit landscape. You can find their children’s department HERE.
  2. SVS Press Books: I’ve got one board book published, one at press, and a third just contracted with this publisher. Historically an academic press, they’re reviving and expanding their children’s line, which is exciting. See their children’s department here.
  3. Park End Books: Park End is the publisher of my recent middle-grade novel, Little Lost Nun. Although they publish a variety of genres, they are extremely Orthodox friendly. You’ll find children’s books in their shop here.
  4. New Rome Press: Books from New Rome are always beautifully produced! You can see their children’s books here.
  5. Potamitis Publishing: This family-run company has an astounding line-up of books about saints. I especially love their Paterikon for Kids. Those colorful little paperbacks are a godsend for little ones who struggle to focus in church. You’ll find these and other books from them here.
  6. Sebastian Press: This is a Serbian-American publisher on the west coast. At least one of my friends has been published by Sebastian, and you can find their children’s line here.
  7. Exaltation Press: This is a newer publisher, offering illustrated catechetical books for children. See their collection here.
  8. Philotheia: This is Kristina Tartara’s shop! She’s the illustrator of my three SVS Press board books and a good friend. You’ll find those books and her own board books, in addition to her other creations, here.

The 8 publishers listed above are well-known, but they’re not the only Orthodox children’s book publishers. Some, like Potamitis, offer their books in multiple languages, and of course I haven’t included Greek, Russian, and other international publishers because my knowledge of them is limited. I do know of one in Romania – Libraria Sophia, the publisher of the Romanian edition of The Barn and the Book.

I’d love to hear from you if you have publishers to add to this list! The more we share their names, the more their books will find their way into the hands of the children for whom they were created. May God bless the work of our hearts and hands!

Featured image by David Clode on Unsplash

Little Lost Nun: Video Interview

This conversation was such a joy! Watch me visit with Katie Reetzke from Park End Books, unpacking the stories within and around the story that became Little Lost Nun.

We touched on so many big ideas – the definition of real tragedy, the importance of representation in books for Orthodox children who don’t live in a majority Orthodox culture, the spirituality of children – so many things! I especially loved hearing about the little girl who keep’s her home-made nun paper doll under her pillow. All the ways that children cherish their imaginative memories and bring them into life are precious.

I hope you’ll enjoy watching this interview as much as we enjoyed making it. You can find a copy of Little Lost Nun wherever books are sold.

What we want from Orthodox children’s books

Almost always, an adult is the starting point for a child’s exposure to a book. We choose the books, we purchase the books, we pack our offspring into the minivan and herd them into the children’s section of the library. They can’t obtain books without our help, so we play a large role in their encounters with literature.

That being so, it’s interesting to reflect on the assumptions and wishes that prompt an Orthodox grownup to reach for a particular book. What do we expect from “Orthodox kidlit”? There are many specific answers to that question, but here are three underlying ideas that I suspect are present when a book is invited into your child’s world.

It’s trustworthy.

If a book purports to be Orthodox, it must meet certain standards. You would be stunned to discover it was championing heresy, of course. But there are other, more subtle expectations. You expect it to support your child’s faithfulness, to offer good theology in simple terms, to help you out as a parent. Sometimes we offer a book to our children because we hope it will do a better job explaining than we could, or will at least make a change from our own voice constantly telling them how to be good. We expect the author to be “on our side,” sharing our motivation to pass on the faith to the next generation. If you’re writing Orthodox kid lit at all, you must be a member of the team that walks each child from the baptismal font to a fruitful Christian life when they reach maturity.

IT’S ENGAGING.

To be honest, parents are constantly being let down by books. Sometimes this happens because parents and children are human beings, and what they find appealing and compelling differs. Your child might not see what you see or hear what you hear in the story. But sometimes a book lets you down by failing to present concepts or adapt packaging to meet the needs of the target age. A child’s heart can’t be engaged if you’ve failed to accommodate her developing brain.

I’ve also learned, in recent years, that we adults can frustrate children by overexplaining. They quickly perceive that we don’t see them as capable of perception and discovery. The old advice to writers, “Show, don’t tell” could be a motto for adults interacting with children. I’m thankful for a recent conversation with my friend Sarah, who spoke eloquently about the importance of approaching a child as a full human, a whole person. Drawing on this wisdom, I believe a good book brings the child into experience directly, sparing them the tiresome process of being prompted to enjoy second-hand knowledge of someone else’s transformative delight.

It’s well done.

By this I mean something other than the quality of the book’s content. Like many new things, Orthodox children’s literature as a genre began life looking a bit “home-made” and frankly unprofessional in some instances. When you begin to do something no one has done before, your early attempts will be amateur and faulty. It’s the nature of new things, and it’s an honorable kind of failure, in my view. You have to start somewhere, and you have to make all the mistakes to propel the endeavor to higher levels of achievement.

But I’d posit that the exemption for new effort has expired for this genre. Our readers and their parents have the right to expect expect high-quality illustrations, well-crafted and well-edited text, good paper, durable covers, and the like. Children learn something from every facet of their daily life, and they will notice if the “church” books always look a little shabby next to the secular books.

KEep trying harder!

With no degree programs and only the beginnings of professional development or support for creators of Orthodox children’s books, it may seem presumptive to demand excellence in this field. But still – we should demand it. Any creative process thrives on concentration and persistence. We should be willing to push ourselves, to ask hard questions of our work and welcome honest answers. There’s a temptation to settle for second best, assuming that because there aren’t many Orthodox children’s books, it’s acceptable to put out work that is “at least better than nothing.” We may unconsciously expect that with smaller publishers and a market defined by our faith group, we don’t have to meet the same high standards that would be applied if we were submitting work to Random House or Harper One.

I reject that mindset.

Orthodox publishers in the United States are growing and changing. Higher standards and the ability to be selective are the natural consequence for companies that are thriving. This is an opportunity for sacrifice, or almsgiving. We can give our first fruits to the Lord, a gift that reflects the best of our ability, a gift that is, to the extent possible to a human maker, without blemish.

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.

Giving away signed author copies of books

When your book is published, the publisher sends you a box of author copies. Opening that box is wonderful. Catching a first glimpse of your literary baby incarnated in glorious paper, feeling the cover on your fingertips, hefting that weight on your palm. There it is. Imagination made manifest.

What do you do with your author copies? If you are organized and a good promoter, you post an unboxing video, you run giveaways on your blog (which you pay attention to, unlike the owner of this blog who comes flying in here randomly when inspiration strikes her and forgets all about it for weeks at a time), you send some to the great uncle who always encouraged you to be a writer.

Or you put the box in a safe place on your book shelf, certain you will get back to it in a minute when your life calms down.

But it does not calm down.

This morning, I decided the time had come to send the author copies of my various books out into the world. Books are made to be read. They need to be liberated from my office and begin their happy life on your nightstand.

Therefore, welcome to my Author Copy Book Giveaway. Below I have listed the books I’m giving away, including the number of copies available. I’m happy to sign your book, and I will mail it to you if you live in the contiguous USA. If you live somewhere else, you need to pay shipping.

EXTRA CREDIT if you’ve got a Sunday school, a co-op, or some other special plan for the books!

INCLUDE THE TITLE OF THE BOOK IN YOUR REQUEST!

4 copies

Sam wants to know if animals (especially Saucer!) can speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. Grace and Macrina are competing to write a story, and Elias is losing his patience. Meanwhile, Sister Anna hopes God will rescue her from teaching Sunday school. Christmas is coming, but hearts are full of secrets and frustrations. The Barn and the Book is a story about the traps we build when we try to see in the dark. We tumble into trouble and confusion on our own, but God can steer us clear of our traps and shine His kindly light into our darkness. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 2 of the Sam and Saucer series.

6 copies

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 3 of the Sam and Saucer series.

0 copies – all taken

Written by a group of friends, ​Seven Holy Women​ is a one-of-a-kind journey into the lives of seven women saints. Each section of the book includes a story from one saint’s life, told vividly and imaginatively in the second person; additional information about the saint to give her context; a reflection on ways the writer, reader, and 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. Created as both a deeply personal and enriching communal experience, ​Seven Holy Women​ speaks directly to the reader, drawing her into the lives of seven saints as it invites her to look more closely and lovingly at her own spiritual journey and her friendship with the cloud of witnesses.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a charming story from the life of Saint Ia, an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. The town and parish of St Ives in Cornwall, England, are named for her, and she is commemorated on February 3 in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Join Saint Ia and her animal friends on an adventure to spread the Gospel! Board book for littles.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

How can one little peg doll have the power to heal two broken-hearted girls?

What happens when you do the wrong thing for the right reason? In this relatable story of the restorative power of friendship, two girls – Nina, who has everything, and Tabitha, who has almost nothing – find the strength they need to heal from a very sad day with the help of nuns both little and life-sized. Chapter book for ages 8-12.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Abigail is happy on the island of Inisheer, but God has other plans for her! An angel asks Abigail to search for nine white deer in the woods across the sea. When she finds them, Abigail will also find the place where God wants her to be. Journey with Abigail as she listens to ONE angel, sails with TWO fishermen, finds THREE deer, then SIX, then more! Count with Abigail all the way to her true home. Board book for littles, about Saint Abigail.

BOOKS FROM OTHER AUTHORS

0 copies – TAKEN

The Song of the Sirin is an epic fantasy retelling of the Russian fairy tale “Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf.” It is written in the tradition of the classic Christian fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and George MacDonald.

An evil omen clouds the sky. A song of lore returns. Can one man’s quest save the world?

Voran can’t help but believe the rumors. As blight ravages he countryside and darkness covers the sun, the young warrior of Vasylia hears of an ancient spirit that devours souls. He feels powerless to fight the oncoming devastation until an angelic creature entrusts him with a long-forgotten song. Legend has it that such a song can heal the masses, overthrow kingdoms, and raise humans to the divine. . . .

Armed with the memory of the song, Voran must hunt down the dark spirit before it achieves its goal of immortality. His quest takes him through doorways to other worlds and subjects him to ordeals against seductive nymphs and riddling giants. Voran’t journey is a trial—of faith in a world of doubt, love in a world of selfishness, beauty in a world of ugliness.

With each step of the journey, the strength of the villainous spirit grows, as does Voran’s fear that the only way to save his world is to let it be destroyed.

0 copies – TAKEN

Are you looking for a way to keep your family engaged in the true spiritual nourishment Lent has to offer? Tending the Garden of Our Hearts offers family devotions based on the scriptures for each day of Great Lent, including questions to discuss and ponder and an appendix full of hands-on activities to bring the lessons of the season to life. Whether you use it every day or dip into it occasionally as time permits, this book will help the whole family get more out of this crucial season of the Orthodox year.

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

7 Serious Questions about Orthodox Children’s Books

The database of Orthodox children’s books in English and currently in print now has over 200 entries. In addition, there are catechetical resources available from archdioceses and other organizations that are not included on the list because I see them as a separate genre. For the moment, I’m not studying curriculum. I’m not qualified to do so, and my primary interest is kidlit. But I qualify that with my strongly held belief that children learn from ALL books, not just the ones adults consider educational.

Research philosophy

Right now at work, I’m researching various aspects of Orthodox children’s literature. It’s a thought-provoking adventure, let me tell you. Questions arise at every turn, and there are moments when I struggle with the wild urge to know everything and fix everything immediately! But as my mama used to tell me, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I’m not the solution to everything, and it’s important to remember that people are different. What one person perceives as a flaw is a great strength in the eyes of someone in other circumstances.

Regardless, I believe it’s important to raise and ponder each question. Orthodox children’s literature as a genre is relatively new and still inventing itself. It’s not a field in which you can earn a degree or any kind of standardized credential. It’s still subject to widely divergent opinions, amateur efforts, the absence of substantive data on its efficacy, and the urgency of love – love for the faith and its children and the urgency of their need as an underserved minority in a complex cultural landscape.

Therefore, I offer 7 questions for your consideration. There are others, but in my view, these 7 are starting points for reflection and discussion. You’ll realize quickly that not one of them has a simple answer.

7 Questions

1 – Who is the “customer” for a children’s book: the parent buying it or the child reading it?

2 – Do we hold Orthodox children’s books/curriculum to the same standards that we have for secular children’s products?

3 – Are we evolving from what you might call “informational” catechesis to experiential catechesis, or aren’t we? What’s going on with that and why?

4 – Why is fiction such a complicated thing? Are we able to conceive of children’s fiction as both Orthodox AND engaging? Can we only see or trust faith in fiction if it is OVERT?

5 – I suspect question 1 and question 4 are linked. What do you think?

6 – What do children learn from the ways we create and interact with their “church books”? What are we telling them about their faith that we may not realize we are telling them?

7 – What besides books are/should/could we be creating? What other media might also provide entry points to faithful, imaginative, loving encounters with a child’s spirit?

Share your thoughts

My research is ongoing, and I value glimpses of as many perspectives as are offered to me. If you’d like to share yours, use the Contact form and get in touch!