Fiction for Young Readers Encourages Service and Faith Formation
An Author Interview with Erin MacLellan, Run from the Nun!
By Lisa M. Hendey
Hand your child a book that combines the elements of community service, the benefits of a solid faith formation, and the challenge and rewards of adapting to life’s ever-changing nature. Author Erin MacLellan delivers all this and more with her engaging first novel, Run from the Nun! (Holiday House, October, 2003, hardcover, 128 pages) This action-packed mystery, aimed at readers ages 9 through 13, finds its central character Kara adapting to life at her new Catholic school. Spiritual themes abound in this fun book - you’ll want to read along with your kids.
Author Erin MacLellan shared the following thoughts on writing for young readers and the impact of her Catholic faith on her work.
Q: It’s great to be able to share the following Catholic Book Spotlight interview with Erin MacLellan, author of the wonderful chapter book Run from the Nun! Erin, please tell us about yourself and your family.
A: I live near Columbus, Ohio, with my husband, Greg, and my six-year-old son Jake. I stay busy taking care of my family, working on a new novel, doing school visits and volunteering in the community.
Whenever I have free time, I curl up with a book. I've always loved reading and writing stories. When I was 10 years old, I started a newspaper called “The Summer Weekly”. Each issue included a weekly installment of my serial story featuring a young detective named Katie Lang. I think I was inspired to write about Katie Lang after reading tons of Nancy Drew books. Today, I also love reading children's books about friendship, family and school life. My second home is the children's section of our local library, where I check out dozens of books for my son and for me. Jake and I spend a lot of time using our imagination and creating adventure stories.
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your first novel, Run from the Nun! Since this is a mystery, I don’t want you to give away the ending – but can you tell us the basic plot of the book?
A: My book is about a 10-year-old girl named Kara McKinney, who wants to get kicked out of St. Joan of Arc School. She's been transferred there by her parents after four years in public school. Kara desperately misses her best friend at her old school, so she vows to win her freedom.
She embarks on a series of misadventures in her quest to escape. Her plan to disrupt the school’s food drive backfires, and she is recruited for the nunnery. To add to her troubles, Kara is spooked by Gino, the school janitor. Rumor has it that Gino is digging up bodies in the church cemetery. Kara decides that if she can expose Gino, her parents will let her return to her former school. It's a humorous story, about friendship and adjusting to change.
Q: Run from the Nun! is set in a Catholic school and features many wonderful Catholic elements. What impact has your Catholic faith had on your writing? Did you intentionally set out to write a book based in Catholicism?
A: I got the idea for my book based on my own personal experience. I was transferred to Catholic school when I was in fifth grade, and I always wanted to write a story about the adventures and friends I made at my new school.
I wanted to write a fun story that any child could enjoy, not just Catholic school students. Yet the Catholic school setting was special to my heart. When I was growing up, I always wanted to read books about kids in parochial school, and I couldn't find any. As I developed the plot for my book, I enjoyed weaving in the everyday aspects of Catholic school and elements of the Catholic faith. I think faith is very important, and I certainly drew on it heavily throughout the writing process, especially when my novel was rejected by other publishers. I learned that you have to have faith in your book, and that God will help you. I believe that my Catholic school education gave me the gifts of persistence, faith and inspiration. In fact, it was my eighth grade teacher, Sister Barbara Quinn, who told me that I'd be a children's author one day. And she was right!
Q: I would love to see more children’s literature featuring Catholic characters and Catholic settings. What can we do to support and encourage Catholic authors?
A: The best thing you can do is spread the word about my book and other books with Catholic story elements. As an author, it's hard to let the world know your book is available! Publishers have very limited funds to promote first-time authors like me, so I've done most of the promotion myself through mailings and phone calls. I also love doing author visits and meeting kids at school. Surprisingly, more public schools have booked me for author visits than Catholic schools, which surprised me. It's been harder than I thought it would be to reach Catholic school librarians, and I'm not sure why. I would really love to talk to more students, teachers and parents involved with Catholic schools.
Q: Kara, the main character of Run from the Nun, initially rebels against being forced to transfer to a Catholic school. In the end, she has a change of heart. I also loved the elements of community service present in the book. Did you attend Catholic schools? How can we encourage our young people to become involved in projects of service to others?
A: Yes, Kara does rebel. It's hard for her to switch schools, because she's leaving behind her best friend and she's never attended a Catholic school before. Kara is worried that Catholic school life will be bizarre, and she fears that she won't make new friends. However, she soon gets drawn into school life and is put in charge of the food drive to help needy families. I loved writing the section about the food drive, because it brought back many memories. My Catholic elementary school sponsored annual food drives, and my mother often guided these efforts, so I knew a lot about canned food collections! I also attended Catholic high school, where the spirit of community service was strong. I think schools and parents should provide lots of opportunities for community service. It's also important to let the students come up with project ideas and take the lead in getting the job done. They'll find out how rewarding and fun it can be.
Q: The conclusion of Run from the Nun! hinted that we might be in for another adventure featuring Kara and her new friends. Do you have future plans for a series? What are your goals for future writing projects?
A: I would love to write more books about Kara and her friends. To do that, I need to have strong sales with this first book before the publisher would consider more. So I need lots of people to buy the book! I hate having to think about the sales aspect, but it is a reality. I have worked on a new Kara book, but I'm spending most of my time now on another book, which is about an 11-year-old girl struggling to adapt to her new stepfamily. I plan to keep on writing books, articles and stories until I'm very, very old!
Q: Erin, thank you again for Run from the Nun! – a book Catholic parents will definitely want to purchase for their children. Would you like to add any closing thoughts?
A: I want to thank you so much for the chance to "chat" with you and your readers. I'm so glad you liked Run from the Nun! and are recommending it. By the way, Catholic News Service also recommended my book, and I got positive reviews in School Library Journal, Children's Literature and several other publications. I hope we can get more books out in the marketplace about Catholic schools!
For more information on Run from the Nun! visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0823417964/catholicmomcom
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature.