Welcome to episode 22 of the Behind the Catholic Counter Podcast. I’m Ian Rutherford, President of Aquinasnandmore.com. I interview Catholic authors, publishers and manufacturers to give you the latest news about great new Catholic books and gifts. You can listen to this and past episodes at aquinasandmore.com/podcast.
Ian: Today on the show, I’m happy to be speaking with Vivian Dudro; she is the Ignatius editor of the Magnificat Children series. Thank you for joining me Vivian.
Vivian: Oh you’re welcome, thank you.
Ian: My family has been a great fan of Magnificat and Magnifikid for years. Our kids used them in church and loved them. When did Magnificat start publishing children’s books to go along with the Magnifikid?
Vivian: A few years ago, Magnificat approached Ignatius Press and they’ve partnered with the company and France’s mom which publishes a lot of books. It’s sort of the Ignatius Press of France – if you want to think of it that way, and they publish a lot of beautiful children’s books. Magnificat came to us and said, “Let’s translate these into English and make them available in America and let’s do it together” so we’ve been doing that ever since.
Ian: So you’ve come out with a whole series of several dozen titles and they range from board books for little kids all the way up to books for middle school children. Can you tell us about how the series looks and especially about some of these illustrations in these books because they’re wonderful in the kid’s picture books.
Vivian: There’s quite of variety of books, so they’re not all necessarily related to each other. You’re right, it covers a pretty large age range and the ones, perhaps, that people are becoming the most familiar with are the ones that are written and illustrated by a French Woman Maite Roche. Her illustrations are vivid and really bright colors. They’re gorgeous and they’re very inviting to children, particularly young children. When you mention the board books, those are all authored and illustrated by her but we also are doing books of hers that go up a little older. In fact, one coming out this season, The Beautiful Story of the Bible is by her, and that’s really from 3 year old to 8 year old in age range. In any case Maite Roche is very talented woman. She was trained as a painter at the National Art Academy in Paris but she’s also a child psychologist and she’s a mother of 3 children, so she brings to her work a real understanding of children and then she’s woman of deep faith, that also is apparent.
Ian: Well I know my kids have loved looking at her books. I like the simplicity of her illustrations but they’re also so lively, and get the beauty of the story across as you’re reading them and I really appreciate that about the series. All of the Magnificat books are works of art. They’re not trying to be what you typically find in kids cartoons and comics today which are almost ugly in most cases.
Vivian: Well you know for years in catholic publishing in America, books for children were not that lovely to look at as today. I don’t if it was the noble simplicity gone too far but it was sort of rough, some kind of, I don’t know, modern, but not in an attractive way and Maite Roche has come on to the scene. I think she must be classically trained as an artist but her style is very contemporary and yet it’s vivid and it’s full of, like you said, vitality and so attractive to children and adult for like.
Ian: One of the series that I like is the Loupio series. It’s a cartoon of a young boy having adventures, and this was not done by Maite Roche was it?
Vivian: No, no it’s a different author and illustrator. In fact, I believe he’s a deacon in the church. I’m glad you mentioned him because I love his material too. He not only has done Loupio but he also does the Illustrated Bible and Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, Miracles of Jesus, Parables of Jesus. He’s really a talented man, also a father. I’m glad you mention it, because the boy in the stories meets Saint Francis of Assisi, and this encounter changes this boy’s life. He’s an orphan and then he goes off and has all these adventures. He’s a very likeable character, he’s all boy, it set in the middle ages, it has knights and tournaments and all of that, which- my sons anyway when they were that age they love that stuff so, yes I’m glad you mention that. Those deserve to be better known.
Ian: There are three in the series now, are there more coming out?
Vivian: Well Ignatius and Magnificat, we decided to kind of do a test run to see if they would get picked up because there are more in the series and there’s more to do. The question is, are people liking them?, and are they- do they want more? And so with your feedback, maybe that will give us some encouragement to do some more.
Ian: We’ll certainly promote them and I’ll have to get some feedback from my second grader who likes to reads stuff like this too. Another new book that I saw that came out, I guess last fall was this Little Book About Confession For Children and I really like that you’re doing some sacramental books now along with the other kids story books.
Vivian: Yes! will this book interestingly enough was done by a woman in Los Angeles who saw Ignatius Press and Magnificat producing children’s books. She approached us with an original manuscript. So this did not come from Europe, this came right here from a local American mother, in fact a mother of small children. She found that when she was helping to prepare her oldest child for confession, there wasn’t a lot available that she could warm up to so she decided to write a book of her own, and a friend of hers, also a mother of young children illustrated it and I agree, I think it’s the best little book about confession for children I’ve ever seen and furthermore if I where even an adult who maybe had been away from the sacraments for a while or was hesitant about returning to confession, this book is a great help I think to anyone who wants to understand the sacrament more come to realize its true value.
Ian: Last Christmas, there was a great book that came out – Ishmael: The Shepherd of Bethlehem story book which I really like and goes along with the other Christmas stories and that really beautiful pop up calendar that you’ve done in the past. How did the Ishmael: The Shepherd book come to be?
Vivian: Well, that also came from France. The author and the illustrator in this case are two different people, it’s not Maite Roche, but like Maite Roche, you can tell that the artist was highly trained and the illustrations are really gorgeous, this book is meant for children you know, I would say 5 and up, as you know that the children in the story are older. It’s an original story even though it set at the time of the birth of Jesus and that’s the central moment in the story that affects the characters of the story in a profound way. It’s a completely original story, trying to imagine that perhaps there might have been conflicts between the local people in Bethlehem and all the people coming for the census from all over the Roman Empire and also the differences in faith. I’d never thought of before that everyone living in Judea at that time might not have been Jewish but of course it would’ve been all kinds of people – pagans and people with no particular institutional religion of any kind. Ishmael as we know, that was the other son of Abraham in the Old Testament, that’s what the name comes from, the son who then became the father of the Arab people I guess this what you would say. And of course the Jewish boy in the story that he conflicts with, his name was Isaac so we have an Ishmael-Isaac coming full circle kind of a tale in which Jesus, the Prince of Peace being the good news that came into the world to reconcile mankind to God but also to each other. That was the other thing I loved about that story was it’s focusing more on the reconciliation that has to happen between brothers, family members, tribes, nations through the power of God’s grace. I thought, wow this was really an original idea. I have ever seen a Christmas story going off kind of in a different direction that get you thinking again about the story maybe in a fresh way.
Ian: Oh definitely, I like how it’s more than just the basic narrative that you expect every Christmas and this is going to end up in our family’s collection of Christmas books that we get out with the nativity sets and our advents stuff every year so, I really liked that one.
Vivian: I’m so glad you said that because that’s what other people have said to me also. “Oh this now is going to be in our so called permanent collection of Christmas books.” When our children where little we did the same thing. We had a collection of Christmas books that we only brought out during the Advent and Christmas seasons and they became family favorites and quite frankly now that my older kids are home for Christmas, what do you suppose they do, they go in search of those books.
Ian: That’s great.
Ian: One of the books that I was surprised by, one of my kids who just decided he wanted to read the Bible and so we went looking for one for him since he’s only 5. He’s had a great time looking at the Catholic Bible for Children. Now this is not the board book but this is the very well-illustrated one for a little bit older kids and he’s been enjoying reading through that.
Vivian: Yes, oh I’m so glad because that is a really nice starter bible, if you will, it tells a lot of the important stories in both Old and the New Testament, and it lends a bit of substance to it, doesn’t it?
Ian: Yes it does, what’s really nice is that it’s not just a picture book and it’s not a full blown, just text Bible. It’s nice to have something for kids that’s still meaty.
Vivian: It’s nice to have that in between, yes not just a picture book and not, you know the full scale Bible, but something in between for as you say, your son is 5. That’s really a perfect age for this Bible, and then as he learns to read more and more on his own, you know, this is a book that can be read by children who already know how to read.
Ian: Now, apart from the first confession book, you have a couple if other sacramental books for communion, can you tell me about those?
Vivian: Well we have one that we brought out last year produced by a woman in Ireland, I thinks she’s American and actually went to the University Steubenville and but then somehow married a man from Ireland and lives there and they published there. They wanted to give it a wider audience and again seeing that Ignatius now is publishing more children’s books, they came to us and wanted to see if we wanted to distribute it and that’s just called- I think My First Communion.
Again, beautifully illustrated but you really pick up on the Celtic atmosphere, for lack of a better word, don’t you? I mean, some of the bordering and everything, it is really a lovely, lovely book and would make a beautiful first communion gift.
We’re coming out with Your First Communion – Meeting Jesus, Your True Joy, by Pope Francis. Not that Pope Francis sat down and talked to children but that he gave talks on the Eucharist to children in various parishes and a Croatian publisher, if you can imagine, collected all of these quotes and put them together in a book with a Spanish illustrator. I mean this is really the body of Christ at work, the body of Christ to the world, you know we have the pope of Argentina, we have the Croatian publisher, we have the Spanish illustrator and it all comes to Ignatius press wanting to reach an American audience and so with Magnificat that’s exactly what we are doing.
As you would imagine, Pope Francis really focuses on the personal . You know, that seems to be his real gift for the Church is reaching to people in this personal way and talking about this meeting with God in the sacraments and particularly in communion, and meeting Jesus there and how we prepare ourselves for that, he talks about the reality of sin, he talks about the need for confession, but it so beautiful and personal and touching, I hope this also turns into a favorite for people.
Ian: Are these books ones that you can put first communion memories in or this purely just for reading?
Vivian: Both of these books, My First Communion and Your First Communion.
Ian: Not to be confused with each other.
Vivian: We had to change the personal pronoun, keep the books straight. They both have sections for photos, memories, what not. They have beautiful bindings and ribbons, you know, to hold your place and so they’re a not, if you will, just a book about a subject.
It’s really a memento of that occasion but as you know sometimes these memento books that you can pick up at your local catholic store, they don’t always have a lot of substance. I mean, I hope I don’t sound overly critical, I certainly don’t want to, you know if you live in a glass house, don’t throw a rock, cause you know, we’re publishers and I’m sure our books aren’t perfect either but I know what I’m looking for, I want it all, I want the book to be beautiful, I want the book to be thoughtful, I want the book to be profound, I want everything.
Ian: That’s great, I’m really happy that Ignatius Press picked up My First Communion because the author sent our store a copy of it about four years ago and asked if we would carry it but since we would have to import it from Ireland ourselves, It just wasn’t practical for us to do that so I’m glad that we’re finally able to carry it now.
Vivian: Oh what do you know. Well this is what happens you see, sometimes books that get published overseas, you know as you just explained, the shipping and so on, it’s easier if they can find in American Publisher to print it locally and so this is think globally but act locally. Here you go, this is an example.
Ian: That’s great. Now the other new book you’d mention for this season was The Beautiful Story of the Bible and I have not had a chance to flip through this but the cover itself is gorgeous so can you describe this new book?
Vivian: This, again, is by Maite Roche, the author illustrator I mentioned before, the mother of three children and trained in art in Paris and a child psychologist. She was a child psychologist for ten years and so this is been written and illustrated by her, it’s written by her. I mean she’s retelling the stories from the Bible, the Old Testament and New Testament, the key stories, creation and Noah and, Jesus of course. Her illustrations just pop I mean they’re full of vibrant colors and they’re very expressive, and children just love her pictures. In fact people have told me that in France, if you go to any random Catholic church on a Sunday in France, you will see Maite Roche books all over the nave of the church.
Ian: Oh wow.
Vivian: Because all of the little children have brought them to church with them or families have brought them, you know, in order to help keep younger children contained.This Bible book is for children I would say three up to about eight. Three meaning the child sitting in your lap and you’re reading to the child and older children of course can read them on their own.
Ian: Now with the Easter, and Lenten and Easter season coming up you do have a couple of books for children that relate to the season. You have the Way of the Cross and also Pictures of Easter. What is your Way of the Cross book like? And who’s that for?
Vivian: That book, interestingly enough, that book was created by the Catholic Truth Society in the U.K. but I think it too originally was written in French. Here’s another one of these think globally and act locally, and Catholic Truth Society wanted us to try to do one here so we adapted it. By the way, you know when you translate books into other languages, they take a lot of adaptation, translation is not that. That’s basically what my role is at Ignatius, is to try to help language really resonate with American children. That Way of the Cross is a beautiful book. It’s the Stations of the Cross in a language children can appreciate and understand but I found it very moving when I was working on it, and I’ve heard catholic parents tell me , “I love this book, I love doing the stations with my children using this book. I find it very moving.” That’s the definition of a really good book, when it can meet the person no matter what age he is, and the best children’s books, adults love.
Ian: Oh definitely.
Vivian: The best adult books let’s just also say, a child could read without being horrified or scandalized. But in any case, this Way of the Cross for children is very beautifully done so you could either as a family, pray the stations, take it to a church and actually do the stations inside the church or if you have little ones that’re a hand-full and you don’t want to take them to the church, pray the stations at home. It’ll be a wonderful Lenten family devotion.
Ian: Magnificat-Ignatius have about 50 books here in your library of children’s books, are there any that I haven’t highlighted that you’d like to talk about?
Vivian: Oh golly, I think you’ve covered all of my favorites, certainly, we do have some saint’s biographies. These are for a little bit older readers. We’ve brought out Saint Therese and I think Saint John Vianney and you will notice with the books that come from France, there is definitely a French connection. For example both saints I’d just mentioned are French saints and so you do see the flavor of that country, you know, that their favorite saints, of course are the saints of their own land, and wouldn’t it be great if America had more saints?
Ian: Definitely, that’s right. We have a few!
Vivian: Yes we do. But it would be nice if Catholicism took root here in such a way that every town has its own patron saint. That would be great.
Ian: It would be wonderful.
Vivian: And shrines everywhere, just imagine it. In any case, there are some saint biographies and the most remarkable thing that it’s substance is all there but one of the things that struck us immediately, when Magnificat started sending us these books, were that the illustrations were just beautiful
Oh, here’s one that came from an interesting place, The Life of Saint Benedict. Now this was sent to us by a Benedictine monk in Italy who happens to be an American. How he got there is probably a story in itself. You know, you want to call the guy and say “Hey! Write your autobiography.” The illustrator is also American and what they did was they went to the biography of Saint Benedict written by Pope Gregory and then tell these episodes for children with really beautiful and original artwork that has this kind of Italian, you know, the colors of Italy, the feeling of Italy, the feelings of the landscapes everything, and these stories really are remarkable, I mean, you know some of the miracles of Saint Benedict, his calling as a young boy, his sister Scholastica.
It’s really a great book and again, this came to us because, “Oh look, Ignatius Press is doing kid’s books, let’s send them ours.” That’s what is starting to happen now that we started this partnership with Magnificat is that now we’re getting original work, not that the stuff from France wasn’t original but it was already published in French. This now had never been published before, so that’s a really neat book and anyone who likes lives of Saints and yet vivid artwork, you can learn more about Saint Benedict that’s for sure, there is stuff in there I never knew.
Ian: Well actually I’m going to be interviewing Brother MacKenzie next week so we’ll have his book as a highlight for the whole episode on the podcast in a couple of weeks so I’ll talk to him about his vocation call and how he ended up there.
Vivian: Yes! Oh please do! Because I’m sure it’s got to be great story in itself. You know this is it, people who write have to write from some well within themselve. There has to already be something of depth there if what you’re going to put on the page is going to have any substance and so, I’m sure that man must have quite story to tell. You’re going to have send me an email when that is published. I would love to listen.
Ian: I’ll definitely do that. I really appreciate your time talking about the Ignatius Magnificat kids’ books. I think that for anybody who is looking for books for their own kids or grandparents looking for special gifts for their grandchildren or godchildren, this series is a wonderful place to go, all of them are wonderful, they’re beautiful books and have some substance to them.
Vivian: Oh I’m so glad you think so, I really appreciate you taking the effort to make these books better known and they’re just gems so we appreciate the publicity because we just think these books are so great that they, they deserve to be better known so thank you so much.
Ian: You’re welcome, glad we can help.
Vivian: Okay, thank you.
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.