How did reading it make you feel?
As an almost-60 adult with no small children in my life at the moment, it feels like a guilty (and secret) pleasure. I mean, shouldn’t I be reading more challenging books? It was after a conversation with a distinguished professor of children’s literature that I realized reading children’s literature is totally acceptable at any age. And besides, it’s fun!
That said, I couldn’t resist reading my friend Lisa Hendey’s new Chime Travelers series. Initially I was drawn in by the imaginative and vibrant illustrations by Jenn Bower. This is Hendey’s first foray into juvenile fiction. As a writer myself I was curious as to how she made that transition; I’m happy to say that she has done it quite well.
I read the first two books, The Secret of the Shamrock and The Sign of the Carved Cross and fell in love with the series. The premise revolves around twins Patrick and Katie who are mysteriously sent back in time whenever the bells of St. Anne’s chime (thus Chime Travelers). In each case they meet a saint with a name similar to theirs and embark on an adventure. As they come to know and love the saint, they are inspired by the faith and life of that saint which in turn, draws them closer to God. Their lives are never the same again. Patrick meets St. Patrick, the great saint of Ireland, and Katie meets Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized.
The series is geared for children in grades 2-5 with the very typical problems that kids face such as not fitting in, making fun of other kids, being unkind to newcomers, trying to please the popular crowd, jealousy, being bored with church, guilt over past actions and so forth. By being exposed to these great saints, Patrick and Katie come to love their faith especially through the sacraments (Patrick with Reconciliation; Katie with Baptism and Holy Communion). I found myself becoming attached to St. Patrick and St. Kateri as I grew to know them and almost felt sad when the children were transported back home.
Empowering young people to change
Hendey does not make the twins change instantaneously but rather slowly, over time. In the second book, The Sign of the Carved Cross, we can see Katie noticing and wondering how her brother has changed since he experienced his time-traveling adventure, unaware that the same would soon happen to her. By being changed from within, both children begin treat others with more kindness, patience and understanding.
Saints are real people
Children love exciting stories about real people and our Church has so many of them to offer through the Saints. The Chime Travelers series does a great service in exposing our young people to people who lived their faith authentically and boldly while dealing with their own weaknesses and sins.
Great for adults too!
And since reading children’s literature acts a vacation for my overworked and weary mind, this adult loved them too. I highly recommend the Chime Travelers series for all ages. I’m keeping my copies for the future grandchildren.
Lisa Hendey talks about how these books came to be.
How did you come to write the stories? Did you choose the Saints that you wrote about?
I had been in conversation with the publisher, Servant, about potential book projects. At one of our meetings, I humorously shared with them an idea that I had for a children’s book. The concept for Chime Travelers was “born” during a fun backyard chat with my nephew Patrick one day. We daydreamed about a little boy who traveled in time to meet his patron saint. In our family, the name “Patrick” is quite common and we have a true devotion to the “apostle of Ireland!” When I shared the idea, Claudia Volkman and Louise Pare were able to see the vision for the story and we began to conceptualize what has since become an entire series of books. I chose the initial two saints (St. Patrick and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) and campaigned to have the first two books released simultaneously. Children who read these types of books want to have them quickly if they love them. The upcoming books, based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi, will be coming this spring and the fifth book is planned for release in the summer.
How were you able to make the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction? Did doing the research help you to get into the mindset?
The transition was such a joy but also much more challenging than I had predicted. We have an excellent editor, Lindsay Olson, who is a true children’s literature specialist. And I must also rave about our illustrator Jenn Bower who has truly brought the series to life with her art. Making the transition to fiction involved relying on the research skills I’ve honed as a non-fiction author, but also setting loose my imagination. The challenges related to helping the characters truly come to life, capturing the senses and attention of our young readers, and also building upon the stories of the saints while being very respectful of their true life legacies. Even though the books are short, we want them to be educational and also close in detail to the real facts of the saints histories.
How different is it writing for children than for writing for adults? Are the rules you need to follow?
I’ve learned so much! One big difference is that it’s important to help the kids enter into the action of the scene rather than simply describing it to them. This was a huge challenge for me initially and something I’m still learning about. I’ll also share that I’m quite verbose (note my answers here for an example of that!) These books need to be tight, concise but also full of rich imagery. One “rule” I’m still learning about is giving our characters “agency” – that is to give them a voice or power over their situations. This is why you’ll find our main characters Patrick and Katie at the center of the action in the Chime Travelers series. We want the children who read these books to understand that they too have power and that their actions matter–especially within our Church and in their own families. I believe that our children can make our Church and our world better. I hope that with these books, we’ve given them role models to see that they too can emulate the saints in living lives of great courage, valor and import.
How does it feel to be carried away to a distant land in a distant time with a special Saint? Do you have a favorite?
Many have heard me say that I often write in my sons’ old tree house, a space my husband built for them years ago. I have a rocking chair and desk there, and I truly love to go into that space to “Chime Travel.” To be “carried away” in time and to dwell in the lives of the saints is somewhat like the beautiful form of Lectio Divina. I often do my historical research and then simply pray and begin writing. I find so often that I become caught up in the scenes I’m writing, as if I see the action or hear the dialogue in my head. I’m afraid that probably sounds a bit crazy! But in truth, these books are a gift of love for the Church and our saints. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit is often at work in my tree house, guiding me along a path to the stories we are creating.
I have scores of favorite saints – the first two books tell two of their stories. My “favorite” saint probably varies every day, depending upon whose spiritual friendship I most need! My “go to” is my personal patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux, but I also have a deep love for Venerable Fulton Sheen, for St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope of Molokai, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I love St. Therese of Lisieux because as she did in her own life, I greatly desire to be a missionary in our world. Like St. Therese, I will likely never travel extensively to foreign mission fields. But her Little Way, her life and legacy have taught me that my own mission field can be a vast and beautiful “love letter” to God in its own unique way. In general, I love the saints and working on this project has been a great way to share that love with children everywhere.
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Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey