I always seem to forget to move the laptops when we’re expecting guests. Computers are as much a part of our home aesthetic as the Celtic souvenirs from our days living in Ireland or the Byzantine icons which dominate a corner of our living room. I sent my first electronic message over 25 years ago so I suppose it is little wonder that I currently work in a field that relies on technology that barely existed several years ago.
My daughter is four and like so many of her generation, she cannot comprehend a world without computers. One day, she was listing through household objects, trying to grasp the contents of my childhood. “Mommy, did you have a TV when you were a little girl?” “Yes, but it didn’t have a remote control.” “What about a Wii?” “No honey, they didn’t have video games that fit inside people’s houses.” “Well, Mommy. What about stairs? Did they have stairs when you were little?”
Yes. We had stairs.
My children live in a world that, at first appearance, has radically changed in the last 20, 50 or 100 years. Information is constantly at their fingertips and children are now capable of tasks like audio recording and editing that still seem like magic to my grandparents. Yet, despite a different virtual landscape, their hopes, dreams and concerns are not fundamentally any different from those who have gone before.
Will anyone love me?
Can I do something important?
How do I navigate this world?
As an Orthodox Christian, I am supremely grateful for the examples set and recorded for us in the lives of the saints. As an Orthodox parent, I was initially unsure how to communicate these stories. Writers like Jenny Schroedel and Clare Brandenburg have shared several simple, yet beautiful, stories of our faith and their books are treasures in our home. Unfortunately, both the limited nature of the Orthodox publishing market and my personal pocketbook had left us with fewer children’s books that I would have hoped.
Enter Saint Helena.
Several years ago, our family had the opportunity to visit friends on the island of Cyprus for Holy Week. We logged mile after mile on our rented vehicle, visiting monasteries and reveling in the opportunity to immerse our very American selves in a culture defined by its faith and connectivity with the saints. At many of the monasteries we visited, we noticed an abnormally large population of cats. Upon further inquiry, we discovered that these felines trace their genetic lineage to a shipload of cats sent by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, after she visited Cyprus and found the island’s Churches to be infested with poisonous snakes.
This story rattled around in my head until one day, tired of princess paraphernalia proclaiming beauty without virtue, I sat down to write about one royal woman who not only embodied power and grace, she was adventurous and understood the value of a housecat to boot. I wrote The Queen and the Cats: A Story of Saint Helena with the intention of providing our daughters with a royal role model who, instead of focusing on frippery, placed the Cross of Christ in the center of her gaze.
As I looked for a way to share this story and more like it, I realized that while there were few printed books for children about our faith, there were even fewer (there weren’t any) available in the format in which our family does most of its reading. The Queen and the Cats was the first story about an Orthodox or Catholic saint to be offered for Amazon’s Kindle, and through this technology we are able to offer families an affordable way to share these stories (and their beautiful illustrations by Turbo Qualls) with children. The Kindle book is available in six countries and can be read on any computer, smart phone or tablet with Amazon’s free app.
Paperback and ebook editions of The Queen and the Cats are available on Amazon and from several Orthodox booksellers. In 2012, we plan to release four more stories for children which draw from the rich treasury of the lives of the saints.
Calee M. Lee lives and writes in Southern California. She is the founder of Xist Publishing, providing “books for the touchscreen generation” and attends St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church with her husband and two children. She blogs sporadically at CaleeMLee.com.