Aleteia logoAleteia logoAleteia
Monday 17 June |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Teresa of Portugal
Aleteia logo
Lifestyle
separateurCreated with Sketch.

‘Brave Little Hearts’: Lives of the saints for today’s kids

Brave-Little-Hearts-Joan-of-Arc.jpeg

Image courtesy of Anna Raisa Favale

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/24/24

Offering a fresh perspective on the lives of saints can be tricky. This is what Anna Raisa Favale’s 'Brave Little Hearts' manages to do.

Sometimes, offering a fresh perspective on the lives of saints can be tricky. Showing them as relatable and ordinary individuals (and not as distant, nearly perfect figures) can be inspiring, but in general a balance needs to be struck. This is what Anna Raisa Favale’s Brave Little Hearts: 50 Moonlight Stories for Kids Who Want to Change the Worldmanages to do. Unlike traditional narratives that treat their subjects with post-canonization reverence, this book presents saints as our neighbors. It emphasizes their normalcy, yet also their exceptional bravery, without mentioning their sainthood. The goal is to show that these remarkable individuals were once children (just as we once were), making their stories more accessible and inspiring.

Copertina-fronte-Brave-Little-Hearts.jpeg
Unlike traditional narratives that focus on post-canonization reverence, this book presents saints as our neighbors.

Favale’s book contains 50 fascinating stories designed to engage young readers through the magic of bedtime storytelling. Each tale is crafted with powerful details to ignite children’s imaginations, encouraging them to dream about and perhaps emulate the courageous acts of these historical figures. The stories are accompanied by unique illustrations from talented artists, further bringing to life the humanity and sacrifices of these saints, making their lives both relatable and inspirational.

[The book is not yet published and a Kickstarter campaign is underway, here.]

Aleteia spoke with the author.

Could you tell us what first sparked your interest in the lives of the saints, and why you felt a new approach to telling their stories was needed?

When I was younger, I only knew St. Francis. I immediately connected with him because of his love for nature, which I could easily relate to. His desire to be “small” made him seem approachable — like a friend, or a brother. I could talk to him about anything, and he was someone I could confide in.

I met other saints through the magazines about saints that I found at my grandmother’s house. It was a cold, austere image that made me perceive them as too old, too perfect, or too “elevated.” It was the “smallness” of St. Francis that spoke to my heart. Because I saw so much of myself in his story (in his imperfect and restless character, but also in his deep search for meaning), I felt I could also find Jesus and be the best version of myself.

Other saints felt pretty distant. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying. I remember seeing a picture of St. Lucy, holding a palm branch and her eyes on a plate. I asked my grandmother who she was, and she said, “She was someone who was tortured because she didn’t want to deny Jesus.” I just couldn’t relate to that. I really liked her, but she was just too far above me.

Anna-Raisa-Favale-2.jpeg
“When I was younger, I only knew St. Francis. I immediately connected with him because of his love for nature, which I could easily relate to. His desire to be “small” made him seem approachable –like a friend, or a brother.” – Anna Raisa Favale

So, I only knew a few saints. We, as adults, often make mistakes when it comes to introducing saints to children. We portray them as unattainable, distant models. That’s why I firmly believe that we need to talk about saints in a different way.

You’ve chosen a unique format with a different illustrator for each saint. Can you tell us a bit more about the thinking behind this and how you think it gives the stories more impact?

When I started thinking about writing Brave Little Hearts, I wanted to deal with the elements that kept me from feeling close to the saints as a child. I wanted to show the saints as neighbors, brothers, and friends. I wanted to make the saints more accessible to kids, so they could be someone they could talk to, and rely on. So, in my book, I don’t call the saints “saints.” I call them by their name. Also, every single story begins with their childhood. All saints were once kids.

As for the illustrations, I have to say that I often find children’s books’ illustrations to be, well, childish. They seem vain, trivial. I think that’s a mistake. Kids want to be taken seriously. Also, whether we like it or not, this is 2024. A different visual culture is everywhere. So, I chose 50 different illustrators from all around the world. They each emphasize the uniqueness of each saint in different ways, using different colors, styles, and lines. You can’t portray Joan of Arc and St. Therese in the same way. They’re far too different!

The stories are short — about one or two pages each. I want to make sure the text does not overwhelm the reader, but rather make them feel like they can apply what they learn from these stories to their own lives.

With such a large and diverse collection of saints, were there any stories that really stood out to you during the writing process?

Writing this book was a learning experience for me. As adults, we think we know the stories of the saints. In reality, we don’t really know much about them at all! While picking the saints I wanted to feature, I came across a lot of stories I’d ignored before.

One story that really stood out for me was that of Charles de Foucald. What’s interesting about him is that, according to the modern canon, we could say he was a “loser.” He spent the first part of his life chasing all kinds of things and was never satisfied. He was looking for something he couldn’t find. And then, he finally met Jesus. That was a real turning point. Ultimately, he decided to move to the desert with the locals and Jesus, present in the Eucharist. But he had to go alone — he couldn’t get anyone to join him! Many people saw Charles as a bit of a nutcase.

Brave-Little-Hearts-.jpeg
“I often find children’s books’ illustrations to be, well, childish. They seem vane, trivial. I think that’s a mistake. Kids want to be taken seriously.”

Interestingly, it was only his Bedouin friends who got to know him well. They saw in him a great example of love that spoke to them. While he was in the desert, Charles wrote incessantly, laying the groundwork for many things that would come after his death. But in life, he was on his own. He died alone, at the hands of some thieves who broke into his house and stole everything.

I was pretty surprised to learn about him. His story doesn’t fit the mold of heroism as we understand it today. It’s not about awards or public recognition. It’s about a flawed and sinful man who then met Jesus and gave his life for love, dying alone with Christ. He never got to see the results of his actions.

I think there’s a real need for stories like this, even for us adults. In today’s world, where showing off is all that matters, where social media fills our eyes and hearts with thirst for recognition, Charles reminds us that our only concern should be to love our brothers and sisters, whether strangers or enemies, and to be recognized by God only.

Many people might think of saints as “serious” or “distant” figures. How did you find the adventurous and inspiring elements in their stories to make them relatable for children?

We tend to think of saints as “serious” or “boring” because we don’t know them well. Unfortunately, their stories haven’t always been properly passed on. We’ve fallen victim to a bit of a communication breakdown. I tried to find a way to make kids feel like they were part of a great adventure. I looked for saints from all over the world and from all walks of life.

The word “adventure” is really important to this book. An adventure isn’t just about sailing the seas or being a missionary. It’s also about the adventure of the spirit, which can happen even in a cloister. Take Hermann the Cripple, for instance. He was a scientist, an inventor, and even wrote the Salve Regina. He was physically disabled, but that didn’t stop him from exploring the stars and the sky. He found Jesus there and in his music.

There are lots of ways to say “yes” to the word “adventure.” It’s important for kids to understand that meeting Jesus is the true adventure of our lives.

Anna-Raisa-Favale-1.jpeg
“The word ‘adventure’ is really important to this book. An adventure isn’t just about sailing the seas or being a missionary. It’s also about the adventure of the spirit, which can happen even in a cloister.” – Anna Raisa Favale

No matter where we are, who we are, or what we are doing, following Jesus is an adventure we can all take part in. It’s a mysterious, profound, and amazing experience. The best part is that this adventure can start with just looking up at the stars and can eventually lead you to travel across continents, deserts, savannahs, and seas. But it can also be about experiencing boundless love for a friend, a calling, a brother, or a husband.

What do you hope kids will take away from this book? Do you think it could change how they think about faith and spirituality?

I really do. I think that, especially at an early age, what we believe depends on how we learned it. That is, how it was handed over to us. I think one of the main problems Christian education is facing nowadays is poor storytelling. It’s up to us to work on it. I hope that by reading this book, kids will understand that following Jesus is an amazing adventure, and that it is something we all can do, no matter what. This book shows them that following Jesus changes them and also changes the world for the better. Kids are drawn to superheroes because they want to be strong, capable, worthy, brave, and make a difference in the world. All the kids in my book who were brave and kind made a difference because they allowed Jesus to do so in their lives. With Jesus, we can all become the superheroes we look up to.

Tags:
BooksChildrenInterviewsSaintsSpirituality
Enjoying your time on Aleteia?

Articles like these are sponsored free for every Catholic through the support of generous readers just like you.

Help us continue to bring the Gospel to people everywhere through uplifting Catholic news, stories, spirituality, and more.

Aleteia-Pilgrimage-300×250-1.png
Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.