If you’re a parent or a godparent, the most important thing you can do for your children is to introduce them to Jesus and help them learn to love him. But while you parents are the primary catechists of your children, you aren’t meant to do it alone, especially not in the midst of a hostile and noisy culture. With everything this world has to offer your kids, it’s no great surprise that most of them are drawn to licensed characters more than to the things of God.
I know dozens of little girls who love Elsa and Sofia the First and little boys who’d give their right arms to spend the day with lycra-clad superheroes or smiling trains. They hunger for heroes and long for stories of glory and beauty and triumph over evil. And all we give them is absent parents and petulant mermaids, vigilantes and vapid cartoons. We whose lives are fixed on the greatest story ever told, whose heritage is a host of heroes and heroines, we have forgotten how to tell stories and we settle for fictional heroes when the real ones leave even Atticus Finch and Samwise Gamgee coughing in their dust. And this Church of Dante and Michelangelo, having forgotten how to make sacred art, has even forgotten how to tell stories. It’s no wonder our children are drifting away–we aren’t proposing the Gospel to them as an adventure and a romance but as a dull board book with saccharine pictures. Most of us probably see it that way ourselves.
Now I’ve seen a few beautiful Christian children’s books, and even a handful that were both beautiful and interesting, but the majority I’ve encountered leave a lot to be desired. For years I’ve been lamenting the dull Saint books I’ve found, wondering how you can make a story as riveting as the life of St. Josephine Bakhita into something humdrum. So instead of reading the books, I tell the stories to children who stare, mouth agape, as they listen to the lives of the lovers of God. And I wonder why people don’t just write the books this way.
A few weeks ago I realized: I am people. I could write those books. And I have a friend who is a brilliant illustrator. Five hundred emails later, we’re working on a first draft.
This first book is going to be about Princess Saints. I figure most little girls love princesses. And since we have plenty of princesses who are far more worthy of emulation than even Belle or Anna, why not capitalize on it? When our little ones want to play dress-up, why not teach them virtues along with it? And our princess Saints are just as diverse as Disney’s. The book’s current cast of characters includes an archaeologist, a hermit, a philosopher, a nun, a mom, a head of state, and a social worker–talk about girl power! No waiting around to be rescued by some man here, unless you’re talking about the God-Man. There’s an Egyptian, a Byzantine, a Moor, an Ancient Roman, two eastern Europeans and a Western. Two converted from paganism, one from Islam. Four were virgins, three mothers. Only one martyr in this bunch, but plenty of white martyrdom.
The color will be like this, though the images will be more lifelike, as you’ll see below.
Lindsey and I have been researching like crazy to try to get the pictures right with the right clothes and races and architecture. We’re throwing in subtle Biblical imagery and allusions to other Saints, all in images that are even more striking than the ones on her blocks. Our hope is that the stories and the pictures are interesting enough that your children will begin to love these Saints the way they used to love imaginary heroes. We want them emulating St. Casilda instead of Jasmine, adventuring with St. Damien instead of Iron Man. And in each story, we’re trying above all else to show how the Saints point you to Jesus. So many Christian books tell the story and miss the point–we’re trying to avoid that.
Because these books aren’t just for your kids. They’re for you. I’m writing them in a way that reading them aloud will (hopefully) challenge you to reflect on your own life. Each story is teaching you how to love Jesus better and they’re all followed by some questions to discuss with your kids (or pray about on your own) about how you can better imitate these far-away Saints. I know a lot of parents whose only devotion time might be with their kids, and “Thank you God for flowers so sweet, thank you for the food we eat” isn’t making you a saint. My prayer is that these books will at least nudge you that direction.
So we want to share the first draft of one chapter of the princess book–with rough sketches that will be brought to life with watercolors. Read it (to yourself or to your kids) and if you’re still interested in this project, read on to see what you can do to help.
St. Catherine of Alexandria (November 25)
Princess Catherine loved to read. She had so many questions: where the world came from and why it existed and what her whole life was about–Catherine wanted to know everything. Lucky for her, she lived by the biggest library in the whole world where she could read all day long. She read so much that she didn’t have time for anything else. Not clothes, not friends, and not princes. That was all fine when she was little, but as she got older people began to talk. “She’s going to be our Queen!” they said. “And a Queen needs a King.” “Besides,” they said, “how are we supposed to get new princes and princesses if she doesn’t get married?” “That settles it!” they said. “Princess Catherine must marry.”
This is what they think the Great Library in Alexandria looked like. And see those Egyptian symbols on the vase?
Catherine wasn’t interested in marriage, but she couldn’t exactly tell the whole country no. So she got a little tricky. “Oh, I’ll marry,” she said. “But I could never marry a man who didn’t deserve me. He must be richer than I and smarter than I and stronger and nobler and wiser than I. Much, much wiser.” Well, that was a tall order indeed! Catherine was rich and smart and strong and noble and the wisest woman in the land. Where could they ever find a prince who was good enough for her? Day after day, men came to seek her hand, and day after day she refused them. “Not handsome enough.” “Not kind enough.” “Not clever enough.” Until her people nearly despaired.
But one day, a hermit came to the castle gates. “I know a man who is stronger and kinder and better than any other man in the world,” he said, and the guards waited. “And he knows more than the most learned men,” he finished, and was led to the Princess. There, he told her about Jesus. Princess Catherine was a pagan, a person who worships false gods. In all the time she had been looking for truth she had never even heard of Jesus! The holy man told her that Jesus was King of heaven and earth, that He was merciful and loving and was the true answer to the question Catherine had been asking her whole life. Catherine knew then and there that she could marry nobody but Jesus. Away went her scrolls of history and science and philosophy and out came the Gospels and the writings of the Saints. The more she studied, the more the world made sense. Finally, she understood what her life was all about: to be loved and to love Him back. And the more she loved Jesus, the more she wanted to be His.
That’s the woman at the well from John 4 and frogs from the Egyptian plagues. This one is obviously very unfinished.
With all her study, though, Catherine wasn’t ready yet. One night, she had a dream. The Virgin Mary, Queen of angels and Saints, took Catherine to her Son and offered her to Him as His bride! But Jesus took one look at her and said just what she’d said about all her suitors: “Not beautiful enough. Not kind enough. Not wise enough.”
Catherine was heartbroken! She sent for the hermit who had told her about Jesus to ask him what it meant. “My dear,” he answered, “You must be baptized and your sins washed away.” That very day she was baptized and that very night she dreamed again. This time, Jesus came to her as her bridegroom, putting a ring on her finger and making her His own. At last, Catherine had found a Prince worthy of her—and been made worthy of Him.
But Catherine’s people were not pleased. This was a long time ago, before people were allowed to be Christians, and they reported her to the Emperor. “Well,” he thought, “it must be a very silly religion to say that God could be a man. We’ll just have to show her how silly it is.” So the Emperor called the smartest men in the city to explain to Catherine that Jesus couldn’t possibly be God. One by one, fifty philosophers argued against Jesus and one by one fifty philosophers found themselves convinced by Catherine. One by one they cried out that Jesus is God, the Savior of the world, and one by one they were put to death for their faith, glorious martyrs given heavenly crowns.
You would think the Emperor would think twice once all the smartest men in the smartest city in the world turned to Jesus, but it just made him mad. He decided to punish Catherine for her faith by starving her. But angels fed the bride of Christ, and she came out twelve days later, stronger and healthier than she had been. The people were amazed by this miracle—so amazed that many of them became Christians, even the Empress!
The Emperor hadn’t been able to argue Catherine away from Jesus and he hadn’t been able to threaten her away from Jesus, so he made one last attempt to bribe her away from Jesus. “Marry me,” he said, “and be Empress of all of Rome.” “I belong to Jesus,” Catherine declared, “And will have no other groom.” Oh, the Emperor was furious at that! He ordered Catherine to be killed. And so the brilliant and beautiful bride of Christ, who had searched for truth and found Him, went home to heaven where she prays that all those who love truth will find Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I think she’ll be a little less stern in the final one, but doesn’t she look strong? That’s my kind of princess.
When St. Catherine met Jesus, she wanted to learn everything she could about Him. What can you do to learn more about Jesus? How can you tell other people about His love?
Ask St. Catherine to pray for people who teach the faith, for people who seek the truth, and for all unmarried women.
“Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away. Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked.” (Song of Songs 8:7)
What do you think? Are you as excited about this as I am? And do you want to help support us? Obviously, what we need most is your support in prayer. Please pray for God’s will to be done in our work. All either of us wants is for people to love Jesus better because of these books.
Then there’s the material support. Because we’ve gone about as far as we can on our own. You see, I have all the time in the world–or rather, I can if I want to. But Lindsey has 5 young children, with 3 who are still home all day. If she wants to work on these illustrations, she needs a babysitter to give her some time. So if you feel led to make a donation to support the illustrations, you can do that here.
One of the most challenging thing about this whole business is our attempt to make the details as accurate as possible. So if you happen to be a historical expert (particularly on clothes and ethnic makeup), we sure could use your input.
Finally, we expect the hardest thing about all this will be finding a publisher. Neither of us has any desire to try to self-publish. We know too well how valuable a good publisher can be, especially in terms of guidance as to word count and page layout and all that. So if you know a Catholic children’s publisher and want to pass this along, that’d be amazing!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do for the Kingdom! If I didn’t have such an incredible group of supporters (both online and in real life), I couldn’t do anything that I do and I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed this project could come to fruition. But I know you all are prayer warriors and I know that God’s Providence works through you. I’m so excited to see what God has planned for this project and I’m so glad you’ll all be coming along for the ride!