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.

List of Orthodox Christian Children’s Books

I was thinking of writing an article encouraging homeschool teachers to include at least one Orthodox children’s book in regular language arts curriculum each year. This led to the idea of making a list of children’s books by grade level. And that led to my best effort at compiling a master list of Orthodox Christian children’s books written in English and currently in print.

No doubt I’ve missed some. The world is a big place, and so is the internet. It wouldn’t be hard for a little Orthodox book, or even a little publisher, to escape my notice.

This list will need constant updating if it is to become a lasting and useable resource. But it is at least a beginning.

CLICK TO SEE THE LIST.

The list is housed in a Google spreadsheet. At this writing, there are 182 entries, and I am aware of at least 6 more titles that will release before the end of 2021. That’s a lot of books!

The spreadsheet makes some attempt to include notes on what’s in the books, what they could be used for in a Sunday school or homeschool classroom, or for family reading. That part is very incomplete for the simple reason that I’ve read or even seen only a fraction of these books.

TRENDS I NOTICED

Without reading every book on the list, my insights are limited. Based simply on the covers, blurbs, and other readily available details, I noticed several things.

1 – The number and quality of Orthodox children’s books appear to have increased greatly in the last 10 or so years.

2 – Orthodox children’s literature is largely catechetical.

3 – Fiction is rare.

4 – Books of any kind for older children are rare.

5 – The quality and style of illustrations varies widely.

6 – Board books are relatively new in this market, but they are popular and more are being published.

WHAT I THINK

People want good books to support their children’s faith. The number of newer publishing houses and their offerings suggests an active effort to fill the holes for this market. The larger Orthodox publishers in the United States have expanded and improved their children’s line in the last decade. Also, with the evolution of technology and publishing resources, smaller companies can form and produce professional-quality books for niche markets in ways that were not possible in the past. I saw some books and companies I felt were a direct result of this evolution. This is encouraging. I love to see people spend fruitful effort on what matters to them.

One question kept recurring to me as I worked on the list. How many of these books would a child read spontaneously? Are these books children would choose for themselves? Are we simply producing the kind of book an adult makes you read?

On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with reading books you were told to read because you need to learn the information they contain. This is a healthy life-long discipline we should acquire as children. Every aspect of our spiritual life can sometimes require self-compulsion, and the care and love that has gone into creating the books on this list make them accessible and valuable.

That said, I freely admit I was a child best reached through her imagination. Even as an adult, I often find myself most drawn to things I’ve encountered first in fictional settings. Stories are the way I find and remember meaning.

The books I’ve written for children are all either fiction or creative non-fiction (for example, an incident from the life of Saint Ia, told imaginatively in simple language). I don’t feel qualified to write instructional non-fiction.

I say these things to be clear about my perspective. In my mind, the height of excellence in children’s literature is achieved when some great truth shines directly into a child’s heart through a beautifully crafted, genuinely engaging story. In that context, the distinction between what is and is not Christian literature fades. If you are a Christian wherever you go, you can encounter and ponder your faith in fiction as well as non-fiction.

I know not everyone is like me. I know that many child THRIVE on non-fiction reading. I believe Orthodox children need and want more of every kind of book. When you consider how many secular books a child can read in the course of a childhood, 182 Orthodox books is not many at all.

For my part of the effort, this list urges me to keep working on Orthodox-infused fiction for children. It’s a craft that takes practice. A weak story wobbling under the weight of a catechetical agenda accomplishes little. God grant me strong stories that carry something essential with love and grace.

#SummeroftheLittleLostNun – Sister Mary and Nun Anna

With great joy, let me introduce you to two little nuns and the little girls who made them. The nuns began life on a summer day, on the carpet with markers, colored pencils, and two fascinating copies of the Periodic Table of Elements.

This is Big Sister and Nun Anna.

And here is Little Sister holding the nun she made, Sister Mary.

Big Sister built a church for the nuns, so they would feel at home, and Little Sister found icons of the Holy Apostles and Saints Cosmas and Damian to put inside it. Here are Sister Mary and Nun Anna on their way to pray.

Outside the little church…
Inside the little church

Sister Mary and Nun Anna spent a wonderful day with Big and Little Sister. They ate spaghetti, and it is very likely they also ate their vegetables. Nuns do eat vegetables.

Sister Mary and Nun Anna took the girls on a walk by the corn fields. The sunset was beautiful, and the dandelions were fluffy.

Before bedtime, they visited the bee garden. Nuns like bees and gardens, and you will often find both at a monastery.

Nun Anna visits the garden…
…and probably blesses the flowers.

There was just time for a quick ride down the slide and a good-night pat for the cat.

Wheee!
Good night, Cat!

Thank you, Big and Little Sister, for making and sharing Sister Mary and Nun Anna! This will remain one of my favorite things that happened during my time on this planet.

If you would like to make your own little nun and share her adventures, you can find the directions HERE.

#summerofthelittlelostnun #littlelostnun

Signing a contract for my Little Lost Nun

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.

First, I tried it on as a part of the Sam and Saucer series.

No, it wasn’t part of the Sam and Saucer series.

Hmmm….

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.

#littlelostnun

Seven Holy Women: Conversations with Saints and Friends

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.

Painting Angels – A book in context

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.

You can find the review on Relished Living. Here’s it is.

Painting Angels: The Terrible Inconvenience of Love

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!

Seven Holy Women: Who are the 7?

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.

#SevenHolyWomen #book #journal #storytelling #shortstory #Orthodox #saints #faith #imagination #writing

Painting Angels: Cover and Co-Author!

Painting Angels, Book 3 in the #SamandSaucer trilogy, just went to press! It’s due to release on July 21, and I want to share the cover, catalog copy, and adorable new co-author for this book as we wait to see the book “in person.”

The Cover

The Catalog Copy

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.

The Co-Author

I am thrilled to announce that I have a co-author for Painting Angels! Thirteen-year-old Veronica Naasko kindly contributed an account of life as a “farm kid” that is going into the print, ebook, and audiobook editions of Painting Angels! The animal farm at the book’s imaginary monastery is central to the story in Book 3, and when we found there was space available at the end of the book, we asked Veronica to write for us. I recorded my part of the Audible edition this weekend, and Veronica is submitting hers this afternoon. Her part of this book is awesome. It has turkeys. It has wolves. It even has an unusual bishop. Just wait till you read it!! Here is a picture of Veronica recording for Audible.