Notre Dame alumna, student collaborate on children’s book about faith, identity
Maria Leontaras | Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Every great story begins with its teller, and Notre Dame alumna Lisa Hendey intends to inspire the next generation of storytellers with her new children’s book “I Am God’s Storyteller.” The picture book features illustrations by Notre Dame senior Eric Carlson.
(Editor’s note: Eric Carlson formerly drew comics for The Observer.)
For Hendey, class of 1985, writing began as a hobby and a way to connect to other Catholic mothers when her children began elementary school. She said she founded her own website for Catholic-based parenting, CatholicMom.com, to facilitate these discussions and explorations of faith.
Hendey soon after began her book-writing career with nonfiction works for mothers, but said her interests eventually turned to books for children. She penned a series of chapter books, “Chime Travelers,” and began visiting elementary schools.
Hendey said interactions she shared with students during her visits inspired the idea behind “I Am God’s Storyteller.”
“When I would visit the classrooms, I always have two messages. The first one is that we are each … a ‘saint in the making.’ We’re not saints yet, but we’re really working on our path to sainthood,” she said. “The second one is that God calls each of us to be his storyteller. He gives us gifts, whether that’s writing or singing or dancing or even making video games or making a movie, that’s a way to share a story of God’s love. … I began to see that those messages were really resonating with the kids.”
When Paraclete Press approached Hendey about publishing a picture book after these visits, she said she took the opportunity to put this longstanding idea into writing. “I Am God’s Storyteller” features Biblical storytellers both from the Old and New Testament, such as Moses, Sarah and Jesus.
Hendey said she wishes for anyone who reads the book to be able to see themselves in the story and wants children to see they all have the potential to be great storytellers.
“I hope the children will understand, in a sense, this mission that they have,” Hendey said. “That they’ll understand it and that they’ll embrace it. That they’ll embrace it with enthusiasm. That whatever it is that God has created them to share with the world, that that gift is that — it’s a gift from God that is greatly needed right now. That they, even at a tender age, can be a messenger of God’s love and that there are lots of different ways to do that.”
One potential gift, Hendey notes, is art. Though authors typically do not participate in choosing the artwork for their books, Hendey said her editor approached her with Carlson’s artwork after seeing their Notre Dame connection.
Hendey said she felt very strongly about Carlson’s artwork regardless of their shared schooling.
“I could just tell immediately that he understood what my goal was with the book,” she said. “Not only did he understand it, but that he would bring a whole other way of telling the story using his gifts.”
Carlson submitted a portfolio of his work to Paraclete Press, and when the publishing company reached out to him to create sample illustrations for Hendey’s book, he said the process “went from there.”
“The story is about how God is telling a story throughout all of history and how kids can get involved in that,” Carlson said. “That’s really the way I approached the illustrations. … At the end of the story [the kids] get to tell a story themselves with their own gifts and their own talents. It’s really about getting involved in God’s story.”
Despite not being particularly inspired by the “Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, the author and illustrator with a very similar name as Carlson, Carlson said he had previously thought about becoming an illustrator.
“I never expected to have gotten a contract to do a book so early,” Carlson said. “That was honestly, I think, a little bit of luck, and obviously, having a really supportive family friend to help and say, ‘Hey, go try it out,’ was awesome. I definitely thought about it before, but I didn’t expect to have a chance to make one so early.”
Carlson said he still cannot believe he has “a book that people can actually buy,” and he is excited to share the work with those who inspire him.
“We both got dedications at the start of the book, and I got to dedicate it to the kids who grew up next door to me,” he said. “I particularly dedicated it to the little girl who’s still young enough to read the book — her brothers are a little bit too old for it now — but it was super cool because I got to read the story with her over break. It was kind of cute to have her read the book and read it with her. It was fun.”
It is the value of sharing a story with another Hendey said she hopes adult readers can remember after reading her latest work.
“Some of my favorite time with my boys was family storytime,” Hendey said. “I just want every grown-up who reads this to recognize that that’s such a special way to pass the faith onto our kids, but also just a special way of growing close to one another. You’re never too old to unlock your inner storyteller.”