I love discovering new holiday picture books, and Little Lamb Finds Christmas is a wonderful choice for young children this Christmas.
Today I’d like to welcome my friend and children’s author, Cathy Gilmore to my blog. Cathy’s first picture book, Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, was co-authored with her sister, Carol Benoit and was self-published. It was later picked up and published by Ligouri Publications. Her newest picture book, Little Lamb Finds Christmas, was released by Ligouri Publications this year, just in time for Christmas!
Thank you so much for joining us here today, Cathy.
Can you tell us where you got the idea for Little Lamb Finds Christmas?
Little Lamb Finds Christmas was born out of a desire I have to communicate rich spiritual truths to young children and to the child in the heart of readers of any age. This grew from my experience as a catechist with the Montessori based children's faith formation program called, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In CGS, children discover the essence of Christian faith in a very personal way. Ideas like: God loves what is little and the Good Shepherd knows my name and I belong to Him, are shared in CGS through hands-on materials and deep reflection.
Setting up a CGS program is a large labor of love and typically only 12-15 children are in a class at a time. I wanted so many more children to know Jesus in that kind of way and wondered, "Could a picture book be the hands-on material that a child could reflect with at home?" In Little Lamb Finds Christmas, I had an opportunity to weave the love of the Good Shepherd, the drama of the Peaceable Kingdom and the joy of Christmas together in a wonderful holiday parable.
In Little Lamb Finds Christmas, Lemi, the lamb who always gets lost, makes his way to the Bethlehem stable on Christmas Eve and finds more than the Christ Child there. A lion comes to bow at the manger and Lemi discovers that with the special little child, even a lion and lamb can be friends. Lemi's story teaches children that Jesus is our forever shepherd and king who brings peace in our hearts and among us all.
The illustrations are so lovely! Did you work with the illustrator at all?
When my publisher, Liguori Publications, entered into a contract with me for the project, I asked if I could help seek out artist possibilities through my connections with SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) and they actually said, "Yes!" It’s very unusual for publishers to do that. I researched several SCBWI illustrators whose style I thought might be a good fit, and after further consideration (and a bit of cheer leading from me), Liguori chose Missouri artist, Kim Wilson. She has given the book an extraordinary blend of near photo realism within painterly warmth and beauty.
What is your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you revise a lot?
When I get an idea, I flesh it out, revise it numerous times and then I think it's wonderful and done. I take what I consider a completed manuscript to my writing critique group (that I affectionately call the "shredder") and they rip it to pieces...in a very nice way. They use nice words and speak gently but the result sends me back to the drawing board for what is one of the best parts of the process. I sift though the critiques and determine what are the most valuable edits to make. Their input is supremely valuable and I believe keeps me humble and grounded.
What inspires you to write for children? What books inspired you as a child or as a writer?
As a child, my favorite book was, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was inspired by, and found hope, pretending to be the little girl who found joy in the midst of suffering. Later, when I was a young mom, I hunted for the most beautiful and engaging stories to read to my daughters.
The one that seems to have influenced me the most as an author is the book, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the BIG HUNGRY BEAR, by Don And Audrey Wood. The way the story is a conversation with the reader captivates me, and the humor inherent in it makes me smile even thinking about it. Now I see both of these earlier writers influencing my stories as my main characters engage the reader directly, while also helping the child pretend to be the little animal who has a special encounter with Jesus.
What encouragement did you get along the way to being published?
When I graduated from college over 25 years ago, I wanted to be a children's author—‘when I grew up’! But I was totally intimidated by the publishing process. Years later, when my husband changed careers and took a tremendous drop in salary, I was doing any job possible to earn extra money. My sister wanted to help me out, and she knew about my dream to be a published author. She had a story idea and asked me to help develop it into a book that we could publish as co-authors, together. So, Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, the story how a little bunny became the first Easter Bunny because of a loving encounter with Jesus on the first Easter, was published. Together we navigated the publishing process which was just as convoluted as I always feared. With the help and support on my sister, we not only released a successful story that sold about 10,000 copies in just 4 Easter selling cycles, but I began a career that I had dreamed of for decades.
Do you have an agent? How did you get your manuscript seen by an editor?
I do not have an agent. I was fortunate to do some networking at an educator convention and had an opportunity for an acquisitions editor to see Easter Bunny's Amazing Day. That opened the door for Little Lamb Finds Christmas at Ligouri.
However, having successful titles does not guarantee a permanent home with a publisher. Liguori has since changed their publishing emphasis and so my other titles are now "not a good fit" there. So I am submitting my other animal stories about Jesus, that I hope will be published as a series, to other Christian publishers.
What are you working on now, Cathy?
My other picture book projects include a dove that learns to fly on Pentecost, a Sardine named Sal who talks to Jesus as he walks on the water, a caterpillar who befriends Jesus as a child, and more. I also have a series of young adult novels that are percolating in my head but they have a while yet to cook.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers who want to write for the children's religious market?
Don't be afraid to use your spiritual imagination! So much of the children's religious market is populated by re-tellings of Bible and saint stories. Our spiritual life is far richer and deeper. Our world desperately needs to know the love of a God to whom we matter deeply and personally. Have the courage to tell imaginative stories that connect children with HIM! And then be patient and persistent as the publishers get the courage to go beyond standard paradigms too.
Also, realize that publishers in the religious market typically have a limited ability to provide marketing support. It is up to you to engage in the marketing process and to apply as much creativity to the promotion of your book as you put into the writing of it. For example, you can take a look at my website. Everything that is presented there I created myself. I learned how to create the website, how to produce blogs, how to create each classroom/family extension activity and how to upload audio and video. Even with the wonderful advertising and promotional staff at Liguori working very hard, I made the arrangements for many of the interviews and events posted there myself. Creating the story and selling it to a publisher is only the start of the author's work. And as an inspirational author, I'm happy to do it. I feel honored to be part of the process of feeding souls, old and young, with the love of God in the pages of a picture book.
My greatest JOY this Christmas is being able to share my lamb, whose story of Christmas Peace seems so timely this year, with children in Ferguson, MO. Letting them know that as we come closer to Jesus, His love brings us closer to each other, and that with baby Jesus even lions and lambs can be friends. This is why I'm an author, and why I thank God for the privilege of being one.
Thank you for taking the time to give us some insight into your writing life and your books, Cathy!
Born and raised in St Louis, Cathy currently lives in Ellisville MO. She and her husband have three children.
You can find out more about Cathy and her books on her author website.
Or visit the Ligouri website to find her books.
Little Lamb Finds Christmas, illustrated by Kim Wilson
Easter Bunny's Amazing Day, co-authored with Carol Benoist, illustrated by Jonathan Sundy