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.

4 Publishers Accepting Submissions for Orthodox Children’s Books

Do you write Orthodox Christian books for children? Are you a new writer wondering where to submit your manuscript? Are you a previously published writer who needs another outlet for her work?

This post is for you! It’s the information I wished for when I first approached the Orthodox publishing world, and several times since.

As the market for high-quality Orthodox children’s books expands, so do the number of publishing options for writers of these books. Publishers watch what sells to understand what needs are being met, and what needs are being expressed but are not yet met. A book purchase is a vote for the book being purchased and, indirectly, for other books of the same type. This is as true in the Orthodox world as it is in mainstream publishing. It’s encouraging to observe the upward spiral of demand for Orthodox children’s books and publication to meet that demand.

WHY DOES THIS LIST MATTER?

My childhood and my human identity are firmly rooted in the stories I read and loved. Those memories begin before memory. I can’t remember a time without books, without someone reading to me, and then without my own endless adventures through the printed word. I believe faith and imagination are strongly bound, so I want the number of good books – faithful, beautiful, funny, poignant, and beloved – to grow and grow.

In addition, as a writer, I want the blessing of multiple options when it’s time to submit a manuscript. Writers write. We grow, we change, and we write some more. Publishers release a limited number of books each year, and competition for those spots is fierce. The more publishers are accepting submissions, the better chance we have of being published.

BEFORE YOU SUBMIT YOUR BOOK PROPOSAL…

All publishers are different, but in more than a decade of writing books for publication, I’ve learned that some things are consistently true, no matter which publisher you are considering.

1 – Read the submission guidelines. No, really. Read every single word. The company wrote those guidelines to ensure submissions will have the best possible chance of matching their requirements. Do you want the best possible chance? That means knowing EXACTLY what the publisher wants and doesn’t want.

2 – Follow the submission guidelines. Having read the directions, your next step is to follow them. In most instances, the first person who sees your submission when it arrives at the publishing house is an editor. Editors are detail-oriented, educated, word-smithing, book-loving, and generally strong-minded people. They work hard and will bless you for making things easier for them by following the guidelines. The guidelines can also help you discern whether your book is a good fit for the publisher, and whether the publisher is a good fit for you.

3 – Explore the publisher’s website BEFORE deciding to submit. Visit their webstore. Browse the entire collection of books for children, including those they choose to sell that were released by other publishers but focusing especially on their own line up. Be a good observer. Watch for trends. Compare your proposed book with what you are seeing. Does it fit in? Do they already have four other books on the same topic? If you don’t see anything that looks like your book, is that because you would be the first to fill a real need, or because they wouldn’t see a need for your book? Take your time with these questions. You might need the answers as you craft your proposal.

4 – Always have a back-up plan. This piece of excellent advice comes to you from my friend Phoebe at Being in Community. When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, you should be thinking about what you’ll do if the publisher says Yes! But you should also have a plan for that book’s next step if the publisher says No. I’m working on another post about rejection letters, so that’s all I’m going to say about this here.

THE LIST

Here it is! Note – you do not need to be represented by an agent to submit to any of these publishers. The information given below is drawn from personal experience and from contacting the publishers directly. In each case, you’ll find the publisher’s website, a link to their submission guidelines, and some notes on what the publisher is looking for, together with anything I’m able to add from my own experience publishing with them.

Ancient Faith Publishing

This is the publisher I know most about – both as an author and as an employee! I’ve seen the whole publishing process at Ancient Faith from both perspectives. I’ve had manuscripts rejected and accepted by them, and I’ll always be thankful for what I’ve learned from their editors.

You can find Ancient Faith’s submission guidelines HERE. The guidelines include descriptions of what Ancient Faith is looking for and specific directions for submitting each type of book proposal. You can find the children’s section of the Ancient Faith Store HERE. Ancient Faith accepts and reviews submissions on an ongoing basis; there is no submission deadline.

Jane G. Meyer, the children’s book project manager, explains, “We want those projects that have so much Orthodox Christian flavor that other secular or religious publishers probably wouldn’t be interested in them. We also want submissions to come in that have been worked and reworked–that are free of obvious mistakes, and have been edited and revised for style. The stronger a piece is on the first read, the more likely it will move forward in the process.” She adds, “The best way to gauge what books we want is to look at the books we’re currently publishing. Our catalog is a good indicator.” 

SVS Press

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press published their first board book this year – Saint Ia Rides a Leaf, by Melinda Johnson (yes, me!), illustrated by Kristina Tartara – and Kristi and I are already contracted for a second board book with them. SVS is returning from a hiatus in children’s publishing. You’ve probably seen some of their older children’s books, many of which are still in print, but this is a season of change and development for them. It’s a fun time to jump into the line up.

You can find the SVS Press submission guidelines HERE. You can see the children’s section of the SVS Press Bookstore HERE. SVS Press reviews submissions at quarterly acquisitions meetings. The dates of the meetings and the deadline for submissions for each meeting are listed with their guidelines at the link above.

Sarah Werner, chief marketing officer for the press, offers this perspective: “SVS Press has long been seen as an ‘academic press’ and we are proud to carry that title into the future. Though, our renewed vision is to not just be an academic press for scholars alone. Our goal is to provide scholarly theological texts, quality translations of patristic writers, as well as quality theological material for ALL ages and walks of life. Our children need quality theological works just as much as adults! We are always looking for Orthodox writers and illustrators who are able to create and tell stories of our faith that are appropriate for little eyes and little ears. We are looking for material that accurately teaches children about our faith and inspires lifelong engagement with and love for God and His Church.”

Park End Books

Park End Books is a newcomer in the Orthodox publishing world. It’s a well-organized effort and already bringing books to market. I encourage you to visit the website to learn more about the company. Its advent is a positive sign of the market’s growth and a welcome new option for writers in search of a publisher. I recently received a contract from Park End for a children’s chapter book that will release in late summer of this year, and to date, I have been thrilled with the process. Summer Kinard, the founder and senior editor, was an author before she was a publisher, and I’ve noticed many aspects of the Park End experience that benefit from her dual perspective.

You can find the Park End submission guidelines HERE. Note that Park End accepts submissions at specific times, so be sure to watch the website for updates. You can see this new company’s growing webstore here.

Asked about Park End’s plans for children’s books, Summer reports, “We are planning three board books for the coming year as well as [my book, mentioned above]. For board books, illustrations are a big deal. We’re commissioning one, and two are from an author-illustrator team with a cohesive style. Our 5-year plan includes getting our books into mainstream bookstores, so we favor books that will reach beyond our target audience of Orthodox readers by tapping a broader cultural need. Our main goals are accessibility and beauty, and we love diverse voices and stories. We’re happy to accept Byzantine Catholic, Western Rite Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox manuscripts, too, since our niche is meant to bring our whole corner of the church into the public awareness by getting into Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.”

Paraclete Press

Paraclete Press, in their own words, publishes books that present “a full expression of Christian belief and practice—Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Orthodox…” This means that Paraclete books may reach different readers than some books released by other publishers on this list, and that the staff you work with will be from a variety of faith backgrounds. Paraclete Press published my first board book, Piggy in Heaven, and I found them to be friendly and professional. The finished book was sturdy and adorable.

You can find Paraclete’s submission guidelines HERE. You can see the children’s section of their store HERE.

Publisher Jon Sweeney notes, “Children’s books are essential to our publishing, even though we only publish two or three per year. And we focus mostly on saints, holidays, and seasons of the church year.”

DID I MISS ANY?

If you know of any publisher of Orthodox children’s books who is currently accepting submissions but does not appear on this list, please post that information in the comments. We all want to hear about it!

God willing, this list will be twice as long five years or a decade from now. In the meantime, I wish you the blessing of time and strength to write, patience to persist, and the pure delight of seeing your published books in the hands of happy little readers.

The Best Part of Writing for Children

This.

This is the very best part. I love writing because I’m made that way, and I adore seeing my words illustrated. But my favorite blessed miracle of it all is a little one happily reading a book I wrote.

I love the innocent little beings we are before the world gets to us and the struggle begins. I love the warmth of our better selves that surfaces when we care for children. I love that the veil is thin for these little ones and the flutter of angels still discernible around them.

Perhaps I also love the reminder of my own journey through that little world. The shabby picture books on a shelf in my office, the ragged rag dolls and moth-eaten stuffed animals in a crate downstairs, the old photos in which the incandescent light of home still shines…these are treasures I plan to carry till I lay my burden down. They are a door I like to stand near, treasuring the glimpses I catch when it opens for a moment, reminding me that time is circular and limitless.

The Children’s Hour

BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

Between the dark and the daylight,
      When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
      That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
      The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
      And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
      Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
      And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
      Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
      To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
      A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
      They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
      O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
      They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
      Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
      In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
      Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
      Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
      And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
      In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
      Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
      And moulder in dust away!

A Board Book Story of Saint Ia of Cornwall

On Tuesday, December 15, my second board book launched – and it’s the first board book to be published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press!

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.

St. Ives Parish Church (Photo credit: Palickap)

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.

Kristi also brought her training in early childhood education, not only providing good insight (“That’s too many words, Melinda!”) but also a wealth of lessons, crafts, and activities to go with the book. Check out these free printables, photos, lesson plans, sensory bins, leaf crafts, and more!

SAINT IA’S SONG

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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

Writing board books

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.

#NineWhiteDeerandMe

#MakersMonday: An interview with Kristina Tartara

I’m more than usually excited about this #MondayMakers interview because Kristina Tartara is the illustrator for St Ia Rides a Leaf, the board book we just contracted with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press! Kristina and I met at a conference, bonded over our shared love of guinea pigs (because all right-thinking people love these little creatures), and we are truly enjoying our first professional collaboration. Kristina works hard. She’s always learning, always polishing her work, always growing in her art. I respect that. As always on #MakersMonday, I’m asking 5 questions. Here’s Kristina, with her answers!

Tell us about your work. What do you create?

I am a children’s book author, illustrator, and graphic designer. In the Orthodox world, I authored two board books (What Do You See at Liturgy & What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy) as well as a matching game (My Orthodox Matching Game). The illustrations were photographs because I wanted children to see other kids participating in the Divine Liturgy. If children are able to practice how to do things at home, then they will be better able to participate at church. The books also show things that they would see around the church to help them learn church vocabulary and spark interest in the world around them. In the near future, I’m hoping to create other Orthodox things to sell on my Etsy shop, such as gifts and greeting cards with my illustrations. I have a blog where I post activities for young children that have an Orthodox lesson. 

In the secular world, I’ve illustrated four books that were authored by someone else. These will be published in the late spring/early summer. I’m also scheduled to illustrate 2 Orthodox books this year, so keep an eye out for those.

How did you learn to do this kind of work?

Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve wanted to write and illustrate children’s books! When I went to college, I ended up studying early childhood education, even though I always wanted to write and illustrate. That might seem backwards to some people, but having training in education helps me understand how to support readers through the illustrations and text. I’m so glad I did it. 

In the past, I would research publishing, and I thought I would never be able to do it. Everything seemed too difficult and too competitive. Then life took a turn I didn’t expect. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that left me struggling to use my hands, and my brain was a mess. As part of my recovery, I read that it helps to learn something new to retrain the brain. I took a colored pencil class at a local art studio, and I haven’t stopped creating since then. Getting sick was the most difficult thing I’ve been through, but it motivated me to do what makes me feel fulfilled – draw. Be grateful for the struggles you are faced with and find ways to use them to glorify God. We only live once, so go for it. Do what you always wanted to do even if you might fail or it seems difficult. 

What do you find satisfying about being a “maker”?

In every job I’ve had, all I could think about was creating. I love being able to say – I have to work which means I’m drawing all day. I want to create things that have a positive message and help kids learn about the world around them. 

What’s your favorite memory associated with practicing your craft?

My favorite memory is probably with my grandma. She’d buy crafts and have them waiting for me when I visited. She also had a bunch of DIY craft magazines from the 50s that showed how to upcycle used items into something else. I loved looking at them and trying to make things out of nothing. She knew I loved crafts and always encouraged me to be creative. 

Share a photo of a favorite piece, and tell us the story that goes with it.

[Melinda’s note: Kristina gave me several pieces to choose from, and I did – I chose all of them!]

Here is some art from my colored pencil class. This one is actually graphite. It is of my Papou. My grandparents suffered a lot during WWII in Greece, yet they never stopped praying and believing in God. Their example is what carried me through my illness. 


And here is one of St. Basil’s in Russia. It is such a beautiful church and maybe one day I will get to see it in person. 🙂 

The jaguar is looking to the future with hope in his eyes. There’s always hope even when you think you’re lost. 

Thank you, Kristina!

You can see more of Kristina’s art, including her adorable illustrations for children, by viewing her portfolio HERE.

I’ll be sharing Kristina’s work as the illustrations for St. Ia Rides a Leaf develop. She’s crafting the storyboard this week, and I can’t wait to see it!

Corgi Seven Leaf: Book Projects Update

This is a happy year in my writing life. I have three books coming out in three genres, from two publishers. I love that!

Corgi

The first book out is actually a third book – it’s the third book in the #SamandSaucer trilogy. The first two, Shepherding Sam and The Barn and the Book, introduced us to Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, and his friends and adventures at the Monastery of St. Gerasim. Sam struggles hard. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s happy, sometimes he wants to be left. alone. please. Saucer, corgi that he is, loves Sam and follows Sam around and barks at him and pats his foot and even, when occasion demands, takes a good mouthful of Sam’s pant leg and hauls him along where he needs to go.

Corgi standing under a blooming cherry tree
Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

I just handed in my second round of revisions for this third book, and most of what’s left now will be copy-edits and minor adjustments. This book happened in layers, more than the last one did. I originally thought there wasn’t a third book, but with some prodding from my editor, I discovered there was indeed a third book. Like all my books, it fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. This is perhaps not the most dignified writing process, but it works for me! I wrote the story all in one gasp, so to speak, and then set it aside because there was time before the release date. The editor read through her pile and got to my story, and we started in on her first round of big-picture suggestions. The book gained several chapters, the characters gained depth, and it went back to her again for another round. She pointed out a few other adjustments, and that’s what I sent back to her last Sunday night.

I liked working on the characters this time around. They’re two years older than they were in the first book, and I did a little research to help me build out Sam. At no point in the books do we have a name for Sam’s particular kind of struggle. Many people have suggested that he’s on the autism spectrum, and my researched honored that suggestion. However, life has taught me that people with labels and people without labels have more in common than they think. This third book puts Sam together with Macrina, his arch-nemesis. Macrina would be the first to tell you that there is NOTHING the matter with her. But as the story developed, I realized, along with one of their mutual friends, that Macrina and Sam have more in common than either of them would like to admit. Perhaps we all do. For that reason, Sam still does not have a label. Macrina doesn’t either. There’s something in each of their struggles that most of us can relate to.

This book, like the first two in the series, will have a cover and three interior illustrations by the friendly and talented Clare Freeman! And that means I’ve also sent in a detailed list of information for the illustrations – listing scenes I hope will be chosen for pictures, and details of setting, clothing, facial expression, etc, Clare will need to create those pictures.

Seven

Seven Holy Women is a story-telling devotional I’m writing with a group of friends. All told, there are eight of us involved, but our math still works because the book focuses on seven women saints. It’s unique in my experience, for two reasons. First, I’ve never written a book with a group of friends before! Second, I’ve never run across a book like this one. Perhaps one exists somewhere, but it hasn’t popped up yet. Our book is unique because it uses short stories written in the second person to help our readers grapple with their own connections to these saints. “You are Morwenna,” the book begins. YOU. Your brain is wired to read those words and drop your imagination into the story, gazing out at the events as if they were your experiences, in your life. You aren’t Morwenna, of course. You are several centuries too late for that, but when I started writing the four short stories that were the root of this book, I loved the mental and spiritual exercise of trying to stand in these holy shoes, for a few moments only.

I needed help to make this book all that it should be, and that’s where my friends come in. Each of them took one of the seven saints, befriended her, and wrote about her. Each section includes personal surveys and a journaling opportunity, and as of this month, all seven sections are in the manuscript. The only remaining task is for me to write the final chapter, and that’s what I’m pondering now. I’ll wander back through the sections written by my friends and then I’ll have to make up my mind just what that final chapter needs to contribute to finish the book neatly and completely.

Leaf

St. Ia Rides a Leaf, the board book just contracted with SVS Press, is now in the storyboard stage! Kristina Tartara, the illustrator, has sent me the first illustration of Ia, and we’re talking over the color of her dress. This is a story set by the Irish Sea, so nearly every illustration will include shades of blue and green. Ia is a red-head, good Irish girl that she is, and we’ve tried four dress colors, drawn from our research on the dyes available to her in her place and time, and social class. Ia was a princess, so her clothes would be more colorful than those of neighboring peasants.

Meanwhile, Kristina has the final text, and this week she’s breaking it into pages and sketching the rough outlines of the scenes that will appear on each one.

I truly love watching the illustration process. I’d enjoy it for anyone’s book, and to watch my own story appear in pictures is one of my favorite parts of the writing life. It will never grow old! It’s especially delightful when I get to work so closely with the illustrator. Kristina communicates with me often and kindly sends me sketches and snatches at every stage. It makes me happy.

BLOG

And of course, my other writing project is this blog! I am so glad I came back to blogging. I’m finding all kinds of interesting people here in the blogosphere. I enjoy your words and pictures, and the ways they stretch my mind. Thank you for being here!

Our Board Book: St. Ia Rides a Leaf

As you know, illustrator Kristina Tartara and I have contracted with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press for a board book. Earlier, I shared this photograph as a hint about the book.

Where is this place? It’s St. Ives in Cornwall! This charming seaside town, and the parish church that watches over it, are named for St. Ia of Cornwall (Ives is an Anglicized version of her Irish name).

I discovered St. Ia’s story while researching another book (coming out this Fall), and although it fit beautifully with the women’s devotional I had in mind when I found it, the story stayed with me until I realized it makes an excellent book for little ones as well.

St. Ia was an Irish missionary to Cornwall in the 5th or 6th century. England owes much of its Christianity to Irish missionaries who crossed the Irish Sea to save those heathen English.

Ia expected to travel with a group, but unbeknownst to her, her fellow missionaries decided she wasn’t old enough to come along. (Is there a child anywhere who can’t relate to this?)

Ia’s group left without her, and without telling her. She ran down to the beach, expecting to board the ship with them, and instead, she saw it disappearing over the horizon.

Ia was heartbroken. She stood on the shore for a while, being sad and praying, and she saw a leaf floating on the water. She touched it with her staff, the way you do when you are busy being sad and you start fiddling with something around you. The leaf began to grow, and Ia realized something special was happening.

The leaf grew large enough to be a seaworthy boat, and Ia rode her leaf to Cornwall. In one version of the story, she arrives before the people who had left her behind. (That must have been just the least little bit satisfying.)

Our book is a simple, lyrical 300-word retelling of this story. With contracts signed, Kristina and I are venturing into the world of story-boards and sketches. I love this. I will never get over the enchantment of seeing my stories illustrated, and Kristina is a great partner. We talk over the time and place, the probable age of Ia (our guess is very early teens), and the layout. When it’s ready, I’ll be sharing Kristina’s work here, both in development and finished.

Meanwhile, here is some of the other artwork we’ve found that shows Ia’s voyage, each interesting in its own way.

Board Book Contract with SVS Press

I am SO happy to announce that in company with talented illustrator Kristina Tartara, I have signed a board book contract with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press! God willing, the book will release the Fall of this year.

Now that I’m blogging again, I’m going to enjoy musing and reveling my way through the publication process. I adore books with pictures, and I will never, ever get tired of the magic of writing a book and seeing it illustrated. It is one of the world’s great enchantments, for me. Kristina has already sent me a few tiny sketches – just lines, already full of character and humanity. It is WONDERFUL.

Board books are like word puzzles, I find. You have a story, and it may be quite large. The setting includes oceans and mountains and multiple human beings, and there are sounds and feelings and layers of meaning, and all of this? All of this. All of this must be poured into 300 words. 300 tiny words. So first, I write the story, wandering around it in my head, letting it be the words it can first lay hold on, and then I go back and shave off words. Polish. Polish. Polish. Words fall off like wood shavings, and the story grows clearer as it grows smaller. At last, it fits into those 300 chosen words, and I am satisfied.

Sometimes, the story happens in 20 minutes. Sometimes it steeps in a misty corner of my mind for months before it arrives.

And now, with 300 words and the clear visions of the inward eye, I let go of it and Kristina’s inward eye and skillful hand bring it to even greater life.

I love this.

I’ll be sharing the story behind the story, the main character, the history, the setting, the illustration process, and all the fun we have after it gets published. But for now, I will leave you with a hint.

Here is a picture of the location where the story is set. Can you guess where this is? Have you been there? Of course, you have to imagine away the houses. They were not there at the time…