Diocesan News

Children’s Book Authors Foster Love of Reading in ‘Great Diocesan Read Aloud’ Session 

Students give Lisa Hendey a collection of thumbs-up when she asks if they can see the book’s cover on the screen. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

OZONE PARK — Everything that Lisa Hendey writes, she offers up to God. As the founder of CatholicMom.com and author of nine Catholic children’s books, she makes sure faith is woven into every story she creates.

So, naturally, when she woke up before 6 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles for a Zoom call with the second grade class at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy on March 5, she started by praying the Hail Mary. Only after that did she begin reading her most recent book to the eager students: “I Am Earth’s Keeper.”

Hendey was one of seven readers who are visiting Brooklyn and Queens — whether in-person or via Zoom — to participate in the Great Diocesan Read Aloud to share their books. 

The project began in 2019 by the Catholic Telemedia Network (CTN), the educational services department of DeSales Media, the ministry that produces The Tablet. Held during National Reading Month, its objective is to promote the love of reading, particularly through using digital resources. 

For second grade student Elijah James, the read aloud was his first time meeting an author. Through “I Am Earth’s Keeper,” he learned new words, including what a birch tree is.

“I’ve really been wanting to meet [an author], so it was exciting to me,” James said. 

With a gentle tone, Hendey read “I Am Earth’s Keeper,” written in 2023, and walked students through the artwork and illustrations, created by award-winning Italian illustrator Giuliano Ferri. It tells the story of a child’s kayak ride before dawn, as he comes to recognize the beautiful world around him.

As Hendey read her book, students eagerly participated by asking questions and speaking directly to the author. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

As the boy takes his kayak across the water, he sees the frogs, fish, birds, and sun, wondering how he can care for and protect the Earth. Hendey looks to emulate what St. Francis wrote in the “Canticle of the Sun,” and encourage children to begin recognizing the importance of God’s creations. 

Following the reading, she brainstormed with students about how they can best take care of the Earth, including recycling and shopping less so they don’t create waste.

“I can kind of help kids to understand how praying for our common planet and the neighbors that we have all around the world is such a beautiful gift of our faith. It just adds a little bit more context when we share it at a Catholic school,” Hendey said.

Erin Neal, a student at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy, appreciated the book’s message and its presentation through illustrations. She asked the author questions, and she felt having the author read the story to her enhanced its theme. 

“I feel like I want to protect the Earth no matter what,” Neal said. 

Other authors who are participating in the Great Diocesan Read Aloud included Maryann McMahon, a former teacher and assistant principal in the diocese, and Tina Cho, an author whose books are written in both English and Korean. 

A student raises her hand to answer Hendey’s questions about the book and how students can do their part in protecting the Earth. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

There are 66 classrooms signed up to participate in the Great Diocesan Read Aloud, representing 24 different schools. 

Beyond authors, people within the diocese will be guest readers to students, including Bishop Robert Brennan and Deacon Kevin McCormack, superintendent of Catholic schools. 

Deanna D’Elia, the second grade teacher, saw the read aloud as an opportunity for the students to learn different stories than what the curriculum dictates.

“It is a good moment for me because it feels like they’re learning not only who the story was written by but they’re able to see that maybe one day they’ll want to be editors, illustrators, and authors,” she said.

Hendey’s blog CatholicMom.com supports and encourages women in the vocation of motherhood and provides resources to help parents in raising their children within the faith. 

Five of her nine children’s books make up the “Chime Travelers” series, and she has written “handbooks” for adults, guiding them through their spirituality and parenthood. In total, she has written 18 books and is currently working on three more.

“I’ve learned from spending time with children that they perceive and get a lot more than we give them credit for,” Hendey said.