It is a real joy to welcome children’s author Laura Alary to my blog today! If you haven’t come across Laura’s work before, one glance at her thoughtful tagline: Writing stories that make us bigger on the inside, might make you curious.
Laura is the author of many wonderful children’s books, and her latest, Breathe: a Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost and the Growing Time is no exception.
Written for children aged 5-10, Breathe draws readers into the biblical narrative and invites them to consider how the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit might be at work in their lives today.
Read on to hear Laura’s heart behind her work, and be sure to enter the three-book giveaway, generously sponsored by Paraclete Press.
Welcome, Laura! I’m so excited you’re here today! Please begin by sharing one fun fact about you that we wouldn’t find in your bio.
One fun thing is that I have my blue belt in karate. I had always been interested in martial arts, but didn’t do anything about it until I turned forty. Then I started going with my kids—the only adult in the class! My progress was very slow, but as they say, you have to be bad at something before you can get good at it. Unfortunately, I have not been able to go to the dojo since the start of the pandemic, so by the time I return I might have to trade in my blue belt for a white one.
That is so fun to know! Now let’s talk about your new book, Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost and the Growing Time. What inspired this title?
The simple answer is that I had already written two other books about the liturgical seasons (Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter and Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas). So in some ways Breathe was simply a natural way to complete the circle of the church year.
The fuller answer is that it took me a long time to figure out what to do with Pentecost. As a child, I found the story in Acts pretty scary—all that violent wind and fire and noise—and I was confused about who or what the Holy Spirit was. My church had no special traditions focused on the day, so I more or less avoided Pentecost until I became an adult. Writing Breathe was partly my own search for a way to understand Pentecost that made sense to me personally.
What helped me was stepping back and looking at the Big Picture—that circle of the Church Year. I started to wonder if the first half of the circle (the colourful half) might be seen as a preparatory time in its own right—a kind of fallow season when we let the stories about Jesus drop into us like seeds in soil and just rest there. Then the green half of the circle becomes the time when those seeds start to germinate. We become active and begin to make the stories come alive and grow in our own time and place.
Once I learned to see Pentecost as the focal point of a bigger story it took on new meaning. I was able to write Breathe not just as a book about a particular arc of the liturgical year, but as a story about connection, interdependence, and belonging.
I really love that, Laura! You have a very distinctive, different style of retelling Bible stories in a way that encourages readers to wonder and draws them into the story. Can you tell us why this approach is important to you?
I have always felt that wondering is the most honest way to approach any story or text. When we bring our real selves to a story—our genuine questions and instinctive responses—our engagement is deeper and more authentic that if we just sit back and let someone else tell us what a story means and why it is important.
Children do this very naturally when we give them space and permission to be honest about what they like and dislike, what they find confusing or strange, and what sparks their curiosity. But when we are too quick to tell them what we want them to think, or subtly send the message that certain questions are off-limits, we turn the story into something fragile—something that can only be handled by an expert or according to specific rules.
Before I start retelling a story I always take time to wonder about it. I sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen and try to come at the story with a fresh mind. I jot down every question that comes into my head. Some of those questions end up incorporated into my narrative. Most do not. But when I write I always try to model that spirit of openness and honesty. I want children to know that is OK to ask questions—any question—and to make space for them to do it.
I can tell that you wonder about the story before you write it… that really does show and it’s very effective. Now let’s talk a little bit about the illustrations, which are so important in any children’s picture book. What is your favorite illustration in this book, and why?
This is such a tough question! I absolutely love what Cathrin Peterslund did with the illustrations in Breathe. All the little swirls and spirals that suggest movement and energy, the gnarled trees that look like something out of a fairy tale, the quirky blend of people sitting around sharing meals together—I really love it all.
I have to say, though, the cover image (which is also the last page) is one of my favourites. When I submit a manuscript to a publisher, I rarely insert comments about illustrations, because I think it is important to let the artist do her work without interference. But in this case, I added a little note about picturing a child blowing dandelion fluff. Cathrin picked up on this note and ran with it, placing the child in this beautiful and slightly surreal landscape that makes me want to know what lies beyond those mountains and where the seeds are going to end up!
I also really love the illustration for Ascension, where the kids are sitting in a circle around the Christ candle, watching the smoke rise. It reminds me of all the times I have sat in circles with children at church, telling stories, then “changing the light” at the end of our time together. It is always a special moment when we watch the flame transform into curlicues of smoke which spread through the whole room.
I agree that Cathrin did a beautiful job capturing the wonder and mystery of this title. Laura, what do you hope readers will take away from Breathe?
My hope for Breathe is that children (and adults) will come away from the book with a deeper sense of belonging and connection—to Jesus, to other people, to other living things, and to the whole amazing cosmos of which we are a part.
I want readers to feel that God is not far away or out there somewhere, but close—in us and around us. Once we begin to see the sacred in ourselves, in other people, and in the world around us, things get really exciting. When we start to see this way we really begin to fall in love with the world and want to care for it. That’s it in a nutshell—love.
That answer is just like your book, Laura… lovely. Finally, what’s next from your pen?
I have a few books in process right now. One is a non-fiction book about food webs and mindful eating—really paying attention to where our food comes from—but its message about connection and interdependence has some similarities to Breathe.
Next in line for publication is a picture book biography about the American astronomer Maria Mitchell. I am very excited about this because I have always been fascinated by life stories and the history of science, and this book combines both. For slightly older readers, I have also written a picture book biography about Cecilia Payne (another astronomer). Both books are in the hands of terrific illustrators right now!
One of the things I am looking forward to this summer is sitting down with my favourite fountain pen and a blank book and just having time to write some new stories. I have a few ideas but need some time and space to work with them.
It sounds like exciting things are on the horizon! Thank you, Laura, for stopping by today. It was a joy!
AND NOW FOR THE THREE-BOOK GIVEAWAY!
Would you like to win a copy of Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost and the Growing Time? Paraclete Press have generously offered to give three copies away.
One winner will be chosen from this Website, one on Facebook, and one on Instagram. Enter on all three platforms for maximum chances! Contest open until Friday 16th April to USA residents only.
Here’s how to enter:
- Leave a comment right here on my website, under this post, telling me what excites you about this book.
- Leave a comment on this post on my Facebook Author Page.
- Enter on Instagram.
- Sharing or tagging friends on any platform = extra entries.
That’s it! Three winners will be announced on Saturday 17th.
Watch the video.
Learn more about Laura here.
The post Interview With Laura Alary, Author of Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost and the Growing Time, PLUS a Three-Book Giveaway first appeared on Glenys Nellist.