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.

#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

Make your own #littlelostnun and share pictures!

Today, I joyfully announce the #SummeroftheLittleLostNun! Together with Park End Books, I’m inviting children (and grown ups) to draw their own little nun and share pictures of where she goes. Does she go to church with you? On vacation? Is she playing near the creek (don’t fall in, little nun!)? Maybe yours will enjoy the garden. Mine does!

#littlelostnun in the flower garden!

Making Your #littlelostnun

You are very welcome to draw your own nun, paint one on a clothespin, or sew one out of felt or other fabric. Variety is one of the great beauties of creation, and I hope to see variety in these little friends. If you need an outline to get you started, Jack Naasko (an artistic friend) kindly created this downloadable template. Color it in, cut it out, and let the adventure begin!

#littlelostnun goes traveling

Some friends of mine were traveling recently, and they created little nuns on the road! Here they are, the first people (and nuns!) to participate in #summerofthelittlelostnun !

Just looking at these pictures makes me happy!

How to participate

Everyone is welcome to join in! Here’s how you do it.

1 – Make your little nun. Draw your own or use the template.

2 – Take her on adventures. Take pictures of her wherever she goes!

3 – Share your pictures, and use the hashtag #summerofthelittlelostnun so that everyone participating can enjoy them. You are also welcome to send them to me. I will be publishing as many as I can on this blog! Use the contact form to get in touch or find me on Facebook.

4 – Another reason to send in your pictures? Park End Books will be offering a 10% OFF coupon for everyone who participates.

I can’t wait to see your pictures! May the #littlelostnun find herself in many good places, with good friends!

#littlelostnun #summerofthelittlelostnun #littlenuntravels

Flying!

REMINDER: Little Lost Nun is available for pre-order from Park End Books, separately or together with the limited edition Little Lost Nun Peg Doll! This book releases in August 2021!

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.

#BlogtownTuesday: An interview with Even Thine Altars

It’s delightful to know that I met today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest IN #Blogtown! When I returned to this form of social writing, I spent hours searching the blogosphere for potential kindred spirits. In one of these searches, I discovered Catherine at Even Thine Altars. I appreciate her writing and her thoughtfulness. I hope you’ll enjoy her answers to my 5 questions.

How did your blog get its name?

My blog got its name from a line in my favorite psalm, Psalm 83 (Septuagint numbering). “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts…. Even Thine altars, my King and my God.” The line of “even Thine altars” refers to the home-ness of the altar of God, which to me is symbolic of the home we have in the Eucharist as members of the body of Christ on the altar of Christ. It is such a delightful and profoundly moving image for me, and every time I think about it there is new richness in it.

Choosing this line from Psalm 83 is also in reference to my love of the typikon, since Psalm 83 is the first psalm read at the 9th Hour, usually right before Vespers. The placement of this psalm is at the beginning of the last service of the day, and for me it signifies both rest and renewal, since work is done and the new liturgical day will start shortly.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I think the defining characteristic of my blog is Orthodoxy, which permeates everything I write about. I love my faith and it is very present for me in my daily life, especially since I have been at Hellenic College Holy Cross. In the past, I tried to limit the influence that the psalms, quotes from the saints, or Orthodox-related posts had on my blogging, but this is impossible, so I have let it go. I really hope it isn’t overbearing or seems like I’m trying to be an example for other people, because that absolutely is not the intent. I simply hope to document my struggles and thoughts, and I hope they are at least interesting.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

My favorite thing about blogging is being able to express my thoughts in long-form writing, which no other form of social media allows. I also get to read other people’s well thought out and often moving or enlightening reflections on their own lives and struggles, which I find to be very beautiful.

My least favorite thing about blogging is having to take pictures, which I often forget to do until the last minute.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Blogging is social to me because I get to put writing out into the world. This is very exciting for me, since otherwise the only place that sees my writing is my journal. It also has helped me get over my perfectionist ideals for my writing, since putting something out and connecting with people (especially in #Blogtown!) is so much more important than being “good.”

Sometimes the social aspects of blogging, especially Orthodox blogging but also blogging generally, are difficult for me because I am so young compared to most people in the community, and sometimes it feels as if I am on a childless single lonely little island trying to make the best of it. Despite this, it has been so amazing connecting with other people and seeing their interests and their stories, seeing what beautiful things they create or poems they write or thoughts they have about their most recent read.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

1. I was homeschooled in a neo-classical Christian environment. This, of course, has had a big impact on my life. It allowed me to be more focused and creative in what I read and worked on, and it taught me discipline and focus which are great tools for me now.

 2. I adore proper grammar. I would always be the person not-so-silently correcting a person’s grammar. Now this love of the proper placement and use of words has allowed me to study dead languages with a fairly decent degree of ease.

3. I lived in a monastery. After I graduated high school in December 2015, I moved to St. Paisius Monastery in Safford, AZ, for a short time while I was trying to discern a monastic vocation. I didn’t stay very long, and about a year later I started college at HCHC. God only knows what I’m doing with my life now!

Thank you, Catherine!

You can connect with Catherine at Even Thine Altars. See you in #Blogtown!

#Blogtown: Letters from the Homefront

Dear Friends,

Why does this blog post begin like a letter? I’ll tell you.

My friend Anna at The Brown Dress Project is drawing on a lifetime of history-reading for strength and motivation in the present time. I love her assessment of what qualities are needed.

 Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

Anna the Librarian/Historian

In today’s open letter on her blog, Anna’s suggesting that our #blogtown community stick together through this hard time by writing letters to each other. Noting that the front lines for this “world war” run squarely through the home of each person, Anna hearkens back to the days when the efforts of those at home provided the strength and resources for those far away on the more obvious battlefields. That’s why she’s calling for Letters from the Homefront.

If you have a blog, welcome! You’re automatically a neighbor in the #blogtown community. Your well-being matters. The funny moments, frantic boredom, quiet inspiration, fabulous nap, or dogged determination that got you through the day are worth sharing with all of us, your virtual neighbors.

It’s a quiet day at my house. I’m pondering the mix of worry and relief this situation has brought to us. I meant to bake bread today, but instead I played games with my kiddo and took a gray-day walk, looking for leaf buds and early flowers. I even curled up on the couch with the dog and stared out the window at the intricacy of tree branches.

This week has been fiercely busy. I work for an internet company, so working at home isn’t a change. But the sudden influx of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET onto the internet, all hoping to help, all live-streaming, all sharing tips, all asking if this or that is going to happen and when, seemed to make all my days twice as crowded.

I love the surge of helpfulness, but I also believe that we humans aren’t capable of sustaining this level of intensity. Once the novelty of this situation wears off, we will either turn on each other or relax into this new way of being and go back to binge-watching Netflix or reading real, tangible, papery-scented printed books. We’ll walk around the block, and around again. We’ll bake things. Our supply chain will recover from our panic, and there won’t be as much to say about toilet paper any more. But I don’t think normal life will come back for a few months.

I’m at peace for now. Mostly. And exchanging letters with all of you here in this cozy internet community will be something I continue to enjoy.

God bless and keep you,

Melinda

#LettersfromtheHomefront

COVID-19: Finally, an excuse to relax

The coronavirus situation burst upon our region just before a weekend that promised to be a scheduling nightmare. Between us, my family had first three and then four conflicting events, two that were approximately 12 hours long and two overnight, out-of-town trips for work. I tackled the problem – set up rides and a sleepover, relegated the dog to the pet hotel, bowed ungracefully out of my work trip, and stared wearily at the solution for a few shining hours.

And then, LIFE happened. Not life in the sense of “a series of events Melinda has organized” but actual life – the chain of events over which we have far less control than we’d like to believe.

It’s Thursday now, the inaugural day of that wild jig-saw-scheduled weekend. Of the four events, only one remains, a board meeting my husband is attending solo.

All that coordination I did? Unnecessary.

All those conflicts? Cancelled, with prudent nods at COVID-19.

The construction and deconstruction of this weekend resembled the experience of falling backwards down stairs – bumping every step, pretending some effort of will can steer your skull away from what might fracture it.

And now?

Eventless, coordinating nothing but the order in which I’ll read my library books on Saturday, I draw a swift, sweet, breath of relief.

I call someone, and we share our relief. We count over the chores we’ll have time for now. We plan full nights of sleep for our families. We gaze at the top-heavy pile our lives have become, revealed more plainly now that it has toppled.

Our relief is complex, almost guilty. These thoughts float uneasily behind the careful calm, the prayers, the wincing curiosity for knowledge we’ll probably regret. We grieve for the suffering and the dead, and for their loved ones. If only everyone could close this virus out. If only we all could release ourselves to an afternoon of completed tasks, good books, cushions, and tea without the dark forces that make this respite possible.

COVID-19 will change us. When we return from our cloistered waiting, who will we be? Will we return, forgetful, to the habits of a lifetime? Will we never be the same again?

This afternoon in a parking lot, I overheard two students talking with a teacher about an upcoming performance. “I hope it won’t be cancelled,” the girls said. “I hope so, too,” said the teacher. “Everyone put so much effort into it.” It sounded odd, suddenly. Could the effort weigh against the risk?

Decision-making is brutal now – very hard and very simple. We’re trying to leap into our future and look back at ourselves, to make the choice now we will wish then we had made. When we arrive in that future, what will we think?

Quarantine doesn’t look much like it did in, for example, 1918. “Social distancing” might better be termed “physical distancing” when our virtual society continues unabated. We already talk to our friends more online than we do in person. Is it our social distance that is changing? Or will our last finger-hold on real life slip closer to the edge as we lose the opportunity to interact in any way but virtually?

I don’t like social media, although I see its usefulness during a contagious outbreak. But I can’t forget that sense of relief, felt and observed, as the daily grind evaporated. Sometimes, when you begin to let go, you wish to continue.

Why did it take a pandemic to stop us? What good might come out of this great evil?

#Blogtown Tuesday: Interview with The Live Script

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest was a toss up – she’s a maker and a blogger, so should she be on #MakersMonday or #BlogtownTuesday?? I asked her. She thought about it, and she picked #BlogtownTuesday. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out her handmade soap. It smells so good I’m always tempted to take a bite. However, rather than eating soap, I’m asking Sarah at The Live Script my 5 questions, and these are her beautiful answers.

How did your blog get its name?

The Live Script name comes from my sense of being every moment within a narrative taller and wider and deeper than what meets the eye.  Script means not only handwriting, but also a crafted story, and adding “live” speaks to the experience, the immediacy of being present within the story and observing it closely.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

This question is quite hard for me to answer.  I know that when I write I am sort of “waving over” the one that comes to read, saying, by my words, “Here, look at this with me.  Experience this scene, this thought; do you see what I see?”  Topically I range from poetry to theology to parenting to cooking, and many stops in between.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

I greatly appreciate having a place to spill some of the thoughts that otherwise bang around my head and heart until they’re assembled and given a home.  Writing is crucial for my own understanding and processing and the blog format allows feedback that writing in my journal does not.  Thus far I haven’t experienced any negative aspects of blogging; I’m not well known so I’m not a target for trolls.  My obscurity has been a gift.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a Social Blogging Collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Though it can never replace the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation, there is value in the regular reading  of each other’s work.  Even if it is only our thoughts that reach across the miles, there is still connection and community.

Tell us 3 things we would know about you if we’d grown up with you.

  1. I am happiest in or near water, be it the ocean, a creek, or the river in Montana that runs through my parents’ land.  The sound, the smell, and the refreshing buoyant coolness of it never fails to delight me, and I am always the last one out of the water.  
  2. I would rather be up in a tree, or on a bicycle, or sitting in the woods, than playing organized sports or pursuing success or seeking entertainment (movies, concerts, plays).  My parents didn’t know what to make of me; I was not motivated by money nor achievement, but just wanted to be up in my tree, writing and thinking.  
  3. There was never an art form that I wasn’t interested in trying.  Growing up I loved drawing, painting, sculpting, doing collages, sewing, and photography.  As an adult that has expanded to soap making, candle making, miniature pottery, quilting, watercoloring, jewelry making, weaving, and soon, carving wooden spoons.

Thank you, Sarah!

You can connect with Sarah at The Live Script. See you in #Blogtown!

#bloginstead