Thank you for joining me on this new adventure!
Engaging Kids with the Holy Mass with author Jennifer Sharpe
In today’s episode, I speak with author Jennifer Sharpe about My Interactive Mass Book, published with Ascension Kids. You’ll hear about:
- Last episode’s giveaway winner, and this week’s giveaway
- Illustration progress for upcoming book Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server
- Jennifer’s inspiration from a neighbor in church to publish her work
- Her unique publication path
- Why interactive features of a Mass book matter
- Where to find My First Interactive Mass Book!
Engaging Kids with the Mass with Jennifer Sharpe, author of My First Interactive Mass Book
First, Thank You!
First off, I want to express a HUGE thank you to all of you who have joined me in this new podcast and website journey.
This is a passion project, and the podcasting is new to me. So I’ve been incredibly touched by those of you who have expressed your enthusiasm on social media, on my website, and with me in person.
Thank you to those who have listened to the trailer or episode 1 with Kristina Lahr last time, and special thanks to those who have taken the time to rate or review the podcast as it gets going. That means a lot, and I really appreciate it.
To me, the most exciting part about all this is meeting my fellow Catholic children’s book writers. And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again that this space is for those who write for the Catholic market, but also for Catholic writers whose books are for the general market as well.
We are just getting started here on the podcast but it has been a real blessing meeting other Catholic writers, and I’m talking about both the guests on my show as well as listeners and those who have enrolled for 2022 in the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club. It’s a small market, and there hasn’t always been a chance to meet, connect with, and support each other, but now there is, and I’m really enjoying it. So thank you to everyone who has been a part of that so far.
Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server Update!
Every once in a while, I might share something about my own projects as well, and I’m super excited right now about my upcoming picture book Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server which is coming out in 2022 with Our Sunday Visitor. My editor just recently gave me sneak-peek at some of the illustrations, and I can’t even tell you how exciting it is to see my picture book text brought to life by the illustrator.
I don’t have final say on the illustrations, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking, but I’ve been very pleased with how the publisher has taken my thoughts seriously and with how the illustrator is bring Arthur to the page.
So I am looking forward to the day early next year, when your kids might to able to meet this clumsy and lovable little boy who just wants to serve God on the altar, but whose clumsiness continues to block his path. This is a book for all of us who want to serve God but have that *one thing* that seems to keep us from doing that well. So Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server comes face-to-face with that challenge in this book and we’ll see how it turns out, if he gets what he wants so badly, or if this flaw which is part of himself separates him from God.
So that book is underway with OSV Kids coming out Spring 2022!
Giveaway Tips and Tricks
And speaking of books going forth into the world, congratulations to our last giveaway winner who has won a signed copy of Kristina Lahr’s Candle Great Feast. We have another giveaway at the end of this episode so tuned for that, and in general, if you like free children’s books, just keep tabs on this podcast because I expect giveaways to be a regular thing, and this being a new podcast, there’s not a ton of competition yet. So keep up with the episodes and do your friends a favor and tell them about this opportunity, because I don’t know about you, but free and discounted books are my kryptonite. I love them, and I want your families to be able to experience the stories of the guests we have on this show.
Interview with Jennifer Sharpe
So this episode is about a book I’ve been watching for a while. It’s been on my wishlist, and now this last year, Ascension Kids picked it up, and it’s awesome. So I’m going to welcome Jennifer Sharpe onto the show, and learn about this unique and helpful Mass book for kids.
Theresa Kiser: Hello, Jennifer. And welcome to the Catholic Kidlit Podcast. I’m so excited to talk about My First Interactive Mass Book with you today. This is such a cool book that you’ve made and I would love to hear about it. But first, before we dive into the book, What about you and what led you to this book?
What led you to put it all together? Because you envisioned the activities, the wheel, the lift the flap. So how did this all come to be?
Jennifer Sharpe: That’s a great question. Well, first thank you for having me on your podcast and super excited to talk with you about the book today. Um, Yeah, so a little bit about myself.
Conversion to Mass Book
I think my background is kind of relevant to my whole story with this book. I am a convert. I actually grew up a devout Protestant and we, my family, we didn’t convert until 2017. So relatively recent convert. And it was just shortly after we converted that I started thinking about writing some books for kids. Basically the reason for that is because I wanted to share with my own kids that profound love and understanding that I had figured out from my conversion, with the Eucharist. You know, realizing that Jesus really is present in the Eucharist.
And so I decided, well, what if I could write some books that would help my own kids to understand these things? And from there, it just kind of blossomed into writing books that are for all children, all Catholic children.
So, yeah, that’s kind of what led me to write the book. And then as far as the flaps and the wheels and stuff, that’s just the kind of style of book that I tend to like to buy for my kids. I feel like it’s very interactive and it’s engaging.
Request from a Neighbor
I knew for one of my daughters in particular that it would really help her in the Mass. She was the one of my kids that was struggling a little bit to pay attention and understand what was going on. So I made her a file folder with the little– I laminated some stuff and the priest vestments and stuff and all of that, and put it on there and I gave it to her at Mass and a lady behind me was like, “What if you made that into a book that all of us moms could use?”
And I was like, I don’t know how I could do that. That seems hard. But I told her I’d give it a try. And so that’s kind of how things got started.
Theresa Kiser: Wow. That is amazing. So really, so I’m surprised how recently this was that you had that conversion and then you just kind of jumped into seeing what your children needed to understand what was happening and to participate. And you made it with such creativity.
That’s really striking, and I’m really moved by that. So once your neighbor at Mass suggested to make it available to more children, how did you think about making that happen?
Jennifer Sharpe: Basically, I made it for my daughter. So I literally took a Manila file folder and I cut it up. I printed out the basic parts of the Mass, and got some clip art and threw it on there with some glue. And that’s what my friend had seen that had sat behind me in Mass. And then at that time, I had already started publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing, which at the time was called Createspace.
Limits of Self-Publishing
So she knew that I had some familiarity with publishing, but this particular book, My First Interactive Mass Book, because it does have the flaps and the wheel and all of that stuff, it didn’t seem possible for me to make even as a self-published book, just because it had so many movable parts. And with self-publishing, there’s a limitation of your creativity and what you can do.
So I had to think about it, not in terms of what this book could be. Cause I mean, I had big dreams and that’s what I have now is what I knew it could be. But I had to think about how can I make this available to people because I could see that people wanted it, but within the limitations of Kindle Direct Publishing.
So that’s just kind of what I did is I played around with it on my computer and then I would get copies sent me and try it out with my kids and see like what worked and what didn’t work…just trial and error.
Theresa Kiser: I love your dedication to making the tool with excellence in, in spite of the limitations that you had as far as what was available through KDP or Createspace.
So once you created the book, what does it actually contain? What is in it for parents who don’t know? What is My First Interactive Mass Book all about?
My First Interactive Mass Book
Jennifer Sharpe: Okay. So that’s a great question. So it’s basically a book that is meant to help your child to encounter Jesus at the Mass. Oftentimes we bring our kids to Mass, especially little ones, you know, the toddler/preschool years can struggle to understand what’s happening there.
They may start to memorize the prayers. They know when to sit, stand and kneel, but they’re not understanding that we actually are meeting Jesus, you know, the God of the universe in the Mass. And so that’s something I wanted to bring out in the book. And so basically it has two ways that it’s interactive.
1. In the physical sense, it’s interactive. It has flaps that they can lift to see the symbolism in the Mass. It has a wheel they can turn to change the priest’s vestments to the correct liturgical color. It has tracks they can trace and it has “can you spot?” So in that sense, it draws the child in. Some want to use the book. It gets them excited about going to Mass. So that’s the first way.
2. But the most important way I feel is that it’s also helping them to understand that symbolism and the encounter that they’re actually having with Jesus in the Eucharist. During the liturgy of the Eucharist, the book–I’m hoping–really brings out and down to the child’s level the idea that bread and wine is being changed into God. I mean, I think it’s mind blowing. And when I converted, I had these kinds of profound moments where I was in the Mass because as a Protestant, I had no experience with that kind of liturgy or with any kind of idea about it being anything more than a memorial. And bread and grape juice was what we had.
But when I saw what Catholics believed, and I saw it in action, seeing everyone process up and receive Jesus, I thought “This is mindblowing. This is insane. People need to know about this, that God comes from Heaven to visit us.” It’s just insane [read: wonderful] to me. And that’s what I wanted for my kids is to be able to understand that.
And so the second way I feel like the book is interactive is that through the flaps, through the words that are being said, with what’s written and the prayers and all the things together come together to help the child really have an encounter with Jesus. So that what the book is about.
Who should read this book?
It’s geared toward– I say ages three and up, mainly because I know littler kids sometimes might rip the flaps and I don’t want parents to be disappointed. It is very sturdy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very sturdy book, but little kids, sometimes they’re just, they’re going to rip it. But if you have a kiddo who’s mature, I think you can definitely use it with younger.
And I’ve seen on the reviews. People have said they use it with younger kids too.
Theresa Kiser: I think that my favorite flap in the book has to be the flap that you open at the Transubstantiation, where it shows, you know, the bread and wine and you lift the flap and it’s Christ on the cross. That just makes it so clear what’s happening.
And you know, I haven’t seen anything like that before, but it makes so much sense to do to present it that way.
Jennifer Sharpe: Yeah, I think it’s incredibly powerful for kids. And there is research done about how actually lifting flaps and movable parts like that actually help the children to absorb the information.
So I just think I’m so blessed to have been able to work with Ascension, to make my product into what I dreamed that it could be from that first little paperback, which was only just a fraction of what I knew the book could be, but at least it was out there, you know, and getting started.
It’s just such a blessing to be able to have made it into what it is. And that I know I get a feedback, a lot that parents are saying that it’s really changing the lives of their kids.
Theresa Kiser: So yeah, it’s hard for kids, especially who are just more wiggly who need some kind of physical motion outlet… and in the middle of a pew, it can be difficult to get that.
But with the interactive features of this book, I can see how that little bit is like, okay, “I’m doing something physical, I’m moving this wheel, I’m lifting the flap” and it gets out that energy and allows the mind to participate.
Jennifer Sharpe: Yeah, absolutely.
A Remarkable Story
Theresa Kiser: How did it get picked up by Ascension?
Jennifer Sharpe: Yeah. I don’t know if this happens for other people.
I know it doesn’t happen in general in the publishing world. I don’t know if it’s more common among the Catholic community, because the Catholic market is relatively small. There’s a limited amount of publishers and within the children’s market, it’s even smaller.
So maybe it does happen more often. So I can tell you what happened to me, but I don’t know if it’s repeatable.
First I made it on Kindle Direct Publishing. I made a paperback copy and it had removable pieces for the different interactive elements.
So there were definitely flaws with that copy. It was popular, but there were things that were not the best about it, just because of the limitations of using self- publishing. They only allow certain books sizes. At that time, you could only do paperback. And if you wanted to spend a lot of money and have a lot of inventory, then you could maybe do something in a board book.
But for me, in what my budget was limited. So I made the first version and I asked 30 of my friends if they would start to promote it on social media. And I would just send out little blurbs and ask them to share, and I would share in different groups on Facebook and things like that.
And I did a couple of speaking engagements, basically just trying to market the book on my own. I didn’t really know what I was doing. So that’s why I’m saying, like, I don’t know if I have a lot of good advice about it. But basically after doing that, the book had around 50 reviews on Amazon.
And from there, once you get to about 50 reviews, Amazon’s algorithm likes your book more. And so it’ll start raising it up on the searches. And then the more copies you sell the higher it goes on the searches. So as it got onto those first couple of pages on Amazon, Ascension took notice.
They decided they were going to start a kid’s line. Cause if you remember, a couple of years ago, essentially they didn’t even sell children’s books. They decided they were going to start a children’s line and they wanted to do a second edition of the book and they wanted that to be part of their launching of their children’s line.
Too Good to Be True?
But when I got the email, I have to say, I was kind of like, is this a fake email? I actually went to the website and looked up the person who had emailed me to see if he was actually an employee there. Cause I was so surprised by it, but yeah, so they ended up just asking me if I would do a second edition.
Theresa Kiser: It had to feel like amazing. Once you realized it wasn’t a scam.
Jennifer Sharpe: It was very odd. And I guess my story is a little unique because like I said, I wrote the book because someone asked me to. And that’s kind of how my journey as a writer has been. It hasn’t really been about because I want to.write so many books or that I want to get my name out there, build my brand, and all of that. It’s like I wrote it because somebody asked me to do it. And then so many more people were saying how much they liked it, but I thought I should get this out to more people. And so it was exciting. Like I came upstairs and I said to my teens–I have two teens. They were probably like 13 and 14 at the time– And I said, I just got an email from Ascension. And they’re like, what?
For me, it was also hard in some ways, because I knew that by going with traditional publishing, I would be letting go of a lot of control and I was afraid like, would the content be what I wanted to be in the end?
Because I had no idea really what it would be like to work with a publisher. So, but it was, it was definitely exciting. Yeah.
Theresa Kiser: And how do you feel now that it’s out the way that they did it? It’s beautiful. It’s the colors are great. It’s sturdy, like you said. The wheel… This is Mass-bag durable.
And so how does it feel now being able to see that people can take this to Mass with them? Children can use it and it’s gonna hold up and it doesn’t require prep work. How do you feel now?
Jennifer Sharpe: Oh, I’m completely happy with the choice that I made working with Ascension. And they wonderful listening to me and my ideas, and making sure that it was exactly what I had envisioned.
So yeah, it was good.
Giveaway — enter here
Theresa Kiser: That is awesome. Well, we’re going to hear more from Jennifer about writing and publishing in the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club. So if you want to hear more from her about that and her very unique path to publication with a traditional publisher, then head over to the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club.
Ascension Kids is giving away two copies of My First Interactive Mass Book to some listeners. So go ahead and check out the giveaway information in the show notes. So you can join us and try to get your copy for a child in your life.
And so I want to say thank you so much, Jennifer, for talking with us today and sharing about this really cool book that you’ve created and it has now come out with Ascension.a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js
Thank you so much.
Jennifer Sharpe: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me Theresa.
Theresa Kiser: This has been Theresa Kiser with the Catholic Kidlit Podcast.
The best way to support the Catholic kidlit creator you heard from today is to buy their books, leave reviews, and spread the word on social media and in person.
Together we can create and discover books to nurture children’s souls.
Thanks so much for tuning in, and see you next time!
How do you keep your kids engaged in the Holy Mass? Have you tried Jennifer Sharpe’s book?
Let me know in the comments!
About Theresa Kiser
I’m Theresa Kiser, speaker and award-winning children’s book author of the picture books Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server (OSV, Coming Spring 2022), Seven Gifts of Baptism (Holy Heroes, coming 2022), and Liturgical Colors (Holy Heroes, 2019), as well as the fantasy adventure series The Manakor Chronicles. On a rare moment when I’m not writing or changing diapers, I might indulge in fruity teas, dark chocolate, and a good book.