In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And yet, despite these words, Catholic author and speaker Lisa Hendey ’85 has found that faith is often viewed as adult territory. She aims to change that with her children’s book, I Am God’s Storyteller.
“I always try to spend time talking with children about their faith, and it is interesting to me that they have such a beautiful, strong witness at such a young age. It is natural to encourage children that you don’t have to be a grownup to share the good news of the Gospel,” Hendey says. “Really, at any age, we can be a light to people and be God’s love to people who need it. God created each of us for a unique and special purpose.”
The book, which is illustrated by fellow Notre Dame graduate Eric Carlson ’19, teaches children about famous Biblical storytellers, from David writing the psalms of the Old Testament to Jesus preaching parables in the New Testament. The back of the book includes resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers, to help them encourage children to read and create their own stories. Hendey focuses on all the different ways that people can tell stories, whether it is a traditional method like a book or another work of art, like a song or picture.
“When I do school author visits around the country—whether in person or virtually— I always want to underscore the importance of literacy and reading. And I talk about the fact that some of us use our words to tell stories, but that there are so many other ways to tell a story—like through dance or art, or even through gaming,” says Hendey, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Greg Hendey ’85, with whom she has two grown sons. “The creativity that God instilled within each of us is something very special, and he has given it to us for a reason. And that is a message that can be relevant for a child of any age.”
Hendey has been active in creating a positive online community since the early 2000s, when she created the website CatholicMom.com. She was looking for resources for Catholic mothers as she prepared for her son’s first communion and came up empty, so she started a website of her own. Today, the site is part of Holy Cross Family Ministries, founded by the late Holy Cross priest Venerable Patrick Peyton, and has 125 contributors who create a weekly podcast, spiritual resources for moms and families, blog posts, and social media conversation.
These days, Hendey takes on a consulting role with the website so she can focus on her books and speaking engagements. She visits Catholic schools, parishes, and home school groups to talk about I Am God’s Storyteller and her other books. Hendey is also the author of Chime Travelers, a children’s chapter book series, and is working on a follow up to I Am God’s Storyteller, called I’m a Saint in the Making, in addition to writing for such print outlets as American Magazine and Catholic Digest.
When it came time to illustrate I Am God’s Storyteller, the publisher, Paraclete Press, suggested Carlson as the illustrator. Carlson, a visual design communication major and theology minor at Notre Dame, was thrilled to get the call to illustrate Hendey’s book. Both say that their Notre Dame connection made the process a special one.
“When I heard Eric’s credentials, that he was a Notre Dame student studying theology and art design, I was immediately interested in seeing his work. His lived experience of his faith is something that we share in common from our experience at the University, and it really shines through in the book. His art is not preachy, but the faith is so present and it’s just so beautiful,” Hendey says. “I also love the differentiation in our ages. It really underscores the message of the book, to have a young illustrator use his gifts here. The message of the book is that we all have unique gifts, and for Eric, it is definitely his art.”
In Carlson’s illustrations, a group of present-day children go on a journey back in time, to see the Biblical storytellers in action. Carlson’s theology studies helped him create images that are not only accessible to the children reading the book, but contain Biblical symbolism.
“In one scene, Jesus is at home as a child, and on the table in the foreground, I put bread and grapes, and also a hammer and nails,” Carlson says. “Part of that was a reference to the food that they could have eaten and the tools that Joseph may have used as a carpenter, but it is also a foreshadowing of the Eucharist and Jesus’ crucifixion.”
Carlson worked on the illustrations during the summer of 2018, using his nights and weekends after spending his days working at a local parish in his home state of Virginia. He sketched some of the book’s characters by hand using pencil and paper at the beginning of the process, and then ultimately created all the illustrations on a tablet.
“The story that Lisa wrote was personally relevant as I worked on the project,” says Carlson, who is working as a graphic designer at a Catholic marketing agency in Cleveland. “The book is about using the gifts you have been given to tell God’s story, and that was a cool reflection for me. I got to use my gifts in illustration to tell God’s story.”
Carlson and other adults might not be the target audience, but Hendey’s story has relevance for them, too.
“I really hope that, for the grownups who share this book with their children, they realize that for themselves, there is also a yearning to share your story with the world around you,” Hendey says, “and that your story has purpose and value.”