Book Updates!, It's sharing time!, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Reframing Heroism: Not What You Might Think

“Go big or go home” is an attitude a lot of us grew up with. As a cradle Catholic, I’m sure I knew, deep-down, that Jesus’ teachings didn’t exactly support that message. But the glamor of shiny, bullet-deflecting bracelets and invisible jets tended to tweak my childhood interest a tad more than things like washing my friends’ feet or going last. Such is the concrete mind of a young child. (Although, “concrete” becomes a bit blurred when we get into discussions about talking cars and backpacks. But the psychology of child development is beyond the scope of this post.)

As a Catholic mom, how do I instill in my concrete-thinking, talking-backpack-loving children, a love of quiet heroism? Or, to use a term more specific to the vocabulary of our Christian faith, a love of virtue? Is there a book or something?

Actually, there are 35 in the works.

Cathy Gilmore, aka “Mrs. Virtue Lady,” is masterminding a massive project, and I am honored to be a part of her amazing vision. Her forthcoming children’s picture book series Tiny Virtue Heroes™️ gives parents, grandparents, catechists, and teachers of preschool-aged children the perfect tool to begin fostering a love of all things virtuous.

“Mrs. Virtue Lady” Cathy Gilmore is the mastermind behind the Virtue Heroes universe.

Written to reframe our notions of superheroes, each story unfolds through the eyes of a cute, relatable-to-children animal character who happens to witness a major moment in Christian history. My mom mind is shouting, This is brilliant! Kids love animals! Ranging from mice to tilapia, this wild menagerie of critters was created with kids’ glorious imaginations in mind. Each lovable character plays the role of a sidekick to important folks like Mary and Jesus, heroes that we really want to capture our kids’ attentions. Besides assigning each story a little animal hero, each hero is in turn the icon of a specific virtue. That special virtue power is his or her super power.

A Mouse and a Miracle is the first book in Cathy’s Tiny Virtue Heroes™ series.

Book One in Gilmore’s Tiny Virtue Heroes™️ series

Moshe (“Mo-SHAY”) or “Mo” the Mouse is the first tiny virtue hero we meet. He is the narrator of A Mouse and a Miracle. In this virtue story of humility, Mo invites readers to delight in the humble joy of his hero Mary, from his unique perspective witnessing the Annunciation.

“I want kids to feel Mary’s joy, not just learn about it,” says Gilmore, already an award-winning children’s book author and ministry founder of Virtue Works Media. “Mary’s humility, her smallness, is represented by a tiny mouse. I want children to picture Mo and associate his story with the virtue of humility.” Ultimately, children will “collect” and learn about 35 virtues by associating each one of them with its corresponding animal icon and a story about a biblical character or a saint. Besides amassing an impressive library of virtue stories, kids will be able to enjoy the brand’s virtue-building toys, games, and even pillow cases that double as superhero capes to build their own virtue heroes universe. Move over, Marvel!

I am completely enamored with Cathy’s VERY big plans, and I pray the Holy Spirit continues to guide my (digital) pencil as I endeavor to decorate her virtuous text with my humble illustrations. Having experienced the charge to tastefully represent the saints, I was not completely surprised by the God-fear/awe/I’m-not-worthy feeling that froze my fingers upon my first attempt at sketching the mother of God. But creating art is a holy experience for me. I am drawn into a deeper relationship with Mary. Even as I pray my Rosary, I now picture the Annunciation in our virtue heroes palette of colors!

Mary feeding bread to Moshe

Gilmore’s tagline “Virtue is REAL super power!” is the theme of A Mouse and a Miracle and all the Tiny Virtue Heroes™️ books. “The holiness of heroic virtue now exists in a modern, imaginative context,” says Gilmore. To learn more about Cathy Gilmore and her Tiny Virtue Heroes™️ check out her IG feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

A Mouse and a Miracle (Perpetual Light Publishing) makes its heroic appearance at bookstores, both virtual and live, in July 2020.

art, Behind the brush, Book Updates!, illustration, Uncategorized

A Picture’s Worth: Behind the Brush

Delightful Children's Book! For ages birth to 7.
Sweet, sweet bedtime story for kids ages 3-8

 

Although you may have seen the official release of debut children’s book author Erin Broestl back in 2019, I’m adding it to the list of wonderful things happening in 2020.

There are so many aspects of this highly-acclaimed Christian children’s picture book (CPB) that I could blog about it for a month of Sundays.  Eventually, I’ll secure an interview with the gifted wordsmith whose — should I call it poetic prose?– seems to speak a language all its own. The making of God Made the Moonlight is the perfect topic for a “Behind the Brush” post. That is, it’s a great example of how illustrations can shape a story. Therefore, I’d like to share a look back at the illustration journey that brought out a second, rather unexpected, meaning to Mrs. Broestl’s God Made the Moonlight.

I can’t believe it’s been three years, but it has. While this is not completely unusual as far as the typical amount of time it takes to bring a new CPB to life, it’s a bit longer than I’m used to. As usually happens in the illustration business, I received the author’s manuscript, nicely-typed, with “illustration notes” next to each block of text. Many, I’d even venture to say most, new authors of children’s books include such notes with their submissions, in varying degrees of details, along side their stories.  Erin’s little notes were blessedly few, but she did have some idea of certain colors and other elements she envisioned for her first book. She suggested a sort of genre (fantasy, in this case, “I’m seeing castles, a fairy-tale,”) and even lent me a book with images that she liked.

For almost two years I sketched out scenes of hazy moons and foggy, night-time castle scenes. While there was nothing technically wrong with the watercolor sketches, I suppose, the “meh” feeling I got from them kept me up at night. Since the Broestls had just welcomed a new member to their family, I chanced that Erin might also be awake.

 

ink-and-wash painting for proposed manuscript
Early idea for “God Made the Moon”

 

“Erin, would it be ok with you if I rearranged the order of some of your lines?”  I texted.

I proposed the idea of using the phases of the moon to guide the sequence of the picture-story that was just beginning to come to life inside my head. (To understand this sequence of events, I highly recommend re-reading your copy of GMtM right now and trying to imagine the text alone on a single sheet of paper.) The verbiage was already there in Broestl’s quiet, charmingly unassuming manuscript:

  • Each day, the moon’s shape changes a little.
  • Tonight, it looks like the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
  • Soon, it will be so dark that I can hardly see it.  A new moon!

There were references to car rides, and airplanes, and city lights. And then,

I love the moon! Just knowing that it is there makes me feel at home, no matter where I am.

There it was: the longing, the pull, the emotion, the universal themes of journeying, going out into the unknown with a spirit of adventure, yet yearning for the familiarity of home.

The story.

I could see the girl on the page, packing her suitcase, the child being read to asking, “Where is she going?” There is a boy on the next spread: her little brother. They are out of their norm, experiencing things that are all new. They are happy, but sometimes the unfamiliarity of a situation can be a little scary.

Packing her suitcase
A young girl sets out on a journey from the city to the country.

 

How blessed I am to work with such a gifted writer as my friend, Erin Broestl! And I’m so thankful that she was open to listening to my new “vision” of GMtM. I sketched out, verbally and on paper, my ideas for a “subplot” to the revised manuscript. The images came to me more easily now, and I worked with a clearer goal in mind. Erin and I collaborated, filled with a new energy.  Over the next months I painted, adjusted, and sometimes even deleted new spreads of artworks. (Here’s a deleted scene from the storyboard before we had the full new story worked out:)

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 12.28.19 PM

 

This one’s Erin’s favorite (it made the cut):

scene from God Made the Moonlight by Erin Broestl and Jean Schoonover-Egolf
The moon plays peek-a-boo through the treetops.

 

“It’s like you saw inside my mind,” says Broestl, who recalls a family trip from her childhood. Believe me, it is a rare thing when an illustrator can actually see what the author “has in mind” for the proposed manuscript. And I assured Erin that this was just a coincidence! I’ve since said this, so many times, to so many children’s book authors:

“An illustrator’s happiest clients are the ones who, when it comes to the artwork,  completely hand over the reins to the artist.” 

The simple truth is that, no, the illustrator cannot see inside the author’s mind. The more details the author has already conjured up in his or her mind about the way each page “should” look, the more that author is setting himself/herself up for disappointment with almost any illustrator’s work. Please see my post on “How to prepare a children’s book manuscript for your illustrator.”

Mrs. Erin Broestl is one amazing woman, folks. She blogs at Eight Hobbits. Although God Made the Moonlight is Broestl’s first published children’s book, she’s no stranger to the writing industry. I’ve no doubt we can expect more great volumes from Erin.