About a year ago, soon before I started writing The Pope’s Cat, my wife and I adopted a teenage girl, Ana. We have a younger daughter at home, and two kids grown, but we went looking for Ana. Idealists, we felt that, when it’s often difficult to feel as if you make any difference in the world, this at least was something we could do.
I didn’t realize at the time, when I started to imagine The Pope’s Cat, that Ana had anything to do with it. I didn’t realize until my mother, whom I asked to review the book in manuscript, said, “The cat is Ana!”
“Really?” I replied. We all have reasons why we write, and they aren’t always known to us.
In this young reader designed for kids in first, second, third, or fourth grade, Margaret is the cat. My fictional Pope meets Margaret while out for a morning walk on the streets in Rome. He picks her up and carries her back into the Vatican, to the worries and disappointment of some in the Curia. Adventures and misadventures ensue. As you can imagine, all of this was fun to create! There will be a sequel, as well, Margaret’s Night in St. Peter’s, which involves Margaret getting lost in the great Basilica and spending time behind Michelangelo’s Pieta on Christmas Eve as Midnight Mass is about to begin.
If my adopted daughter Ana was the subconscious reason for imagining all of this, I also had very conscious motivations. For one, I think our kids generally have no clue what Popes do, and these books offer a behind-the-scenes look to answer some of their questions. I wanted to demystify a Pope’s work, but I also wanted to mystify it just a bit. For example, my fictional Pope is at times nervous, sincere, and annoyed in The Pope’s Cat. He also has tremendous responsibilities, and feels the weight of many souls who look to him for guidance.
I am a lover of all things Italian, not just things Catholic, so I also introduce a few Italian words and phrases for children in the books. For instance, how else could a Pope coax a Roman stray into his arms if not by speaking sweetly in her native Italian? Margaret also has some Italian dishes that she loves to eat, and is grateful to find placed before her, in the papal apartments.
I hope that The Pope’s Cat series will teach kids many things, and as you all know, kids learn most effectively while being entertained. I also hope that the books will encourage our kids to be kind to what the world too easily discards, whether that is stray cats like Margaret, or easily forgotten and bullied kids like my Ana. Those are my dreams for The Pope’s Cat as it goes out into the world this week.
As St. Francis of Assisi would often say to men and women who greeted him on the street, Pace e bene, which means, “Peace and all good.” May all of us parents and teachers show our kids new ways to express peace and goodness to the people and creatures around us.
Want to learn more, and even plan a virtual classroom visit with Jon Sweeney? Read the author’s letter to parents, teachers, deacons, catechists, and pastors.
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Copyright 2018 Jon M. Sweeney
About the author: Jon M. Sweeney is the author of thirty books, including The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation, which has been optioned by HBO, The Complete Francis of Assisi, and When Saint Francis Saved the Church, winner of a 2015 award in history from the Catholic Press Association. He is also the publisher at Paraclete Press in Massachusetts. Jon lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee. The Pope’s Cat is his first book for children.