As a grandmother and educator, Karen Streich understands the importance of developing early reading skills. She enjoys snuggling in a comfortable corner of the sofa and reading stories to her 4-year-old grandson, Alexander. Through her words and Alexander’s imagination, they have traveled through far away lands of talking animals, fairy tales and imaginary adventures.
Retired from Pius XI High School where she taught Catholic faith, morality and ethics, and world religions in the theology department for 23 years, Streich, 70, wanted to share biblical stories with Alexander. She began a quest to find captivating books to ignite the small child’s faith.
“I was looking through the books at one of the big bookstores and couldn’t find anything I liked,” she said. “One night I was reading to Alexander from a Dr. Seuss book about the planets. It was done in rhyming verse and was a lot of fun. That’s when I thought, ‘Why not do this with stories from the Bible?’ When I came home, I started writing.”
Most important to Streich as she penned her stories, was to ensure Alexander would learn about the Bible and share the love of Jesus with him. Drawing on her years of experience in teaching the Catholic faith, she wrote stories in verse form.
While it was never her intention to publish the stories, a surprise visit from a close friend changed everything, and her book, “God’s Wonderful Plan,” seemed to be God’s plan.
“I showed her some of the stories and she told me that I could publish these,” Streich explained. “That’s when I started looking for a publisher. I did research on publishers that did children’s books and got a response from one that does more weekly kinds of things. They liked what I wrote, but said they thought it should be a regular book with illustrations.”
Streich learned that many publishers require agents, and others would hold the manuscript exclusively for six months with no assurance of publication. Finally, she visited the library and educated herself on the publishing world.
“At this point, my friend came over waving an article from the business section of the Journal Sentinel and saying, ‘Here’s a lady who found a publisher.’ It was Beaver’s Pond Press in Minnesota,” Streich said. “I researched the company quite extensively, liked what I saw, submitted the manuscript and here we are! It has been a joyful experience and I can’t say enough about how wonderful they were and how helpful.”
Before she decided to go ahead with publication, Streich consulted with the two religious education directors at her parish, Our Lady of Lourdes.
After reading several stories to them, they were unanimous in encouraging her to go ahead with the publishing process.
“They said that there is so little available for children that are of really high quality. I am convinced it is possible to teach children Scripture in a way that would not require unlearning as they mature in their understanding of how the Bible was written,” she said. “As an example, not taking the seven days of creation literally, or presenting the story of Adam and Eve as a ‘story’ that teaches us about God and ourselves. Because the stories are in rhyming verse, they are engaging and move quickly, focusing on main ideas.”
Karen Streich is hosting a book launching party for “God’s Wonderful Plan,’’ at the Harmony Inn, 5601 Broad St., Greendale on Sunday, May 6, from 1-3 p.m.
“God’s Wonderful Plan: Stories and Lessons from the Bible sells for $16.95, and will be available at the book launching party, as well as through the following vendors:
T. H. Stemper Co.
Each of the stories invites dialogue with an adult to fill in age-appropriate details. For example, in the story on Jesus’ death, Streich states that they killed Jesus, but does not go into details of the crucifixion.
“Parents can decide how much or how little their child is ready to hear,” she said. “My primary goal is that I want children to know that God is absolutely in love with them, and God has a plan to help them know that love through Jesus. I also want them to know Jesus’ special concern for those who sometimes are not loved.”
The book, “God’s Wonderful Plan” is illustrated in watercolor, by Sarah Nygaard, a published illustrator who holds a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The artwork is just beautiful,” said Streich. “Sarah did an awesome job. The pictures accurately reflect the people and culture of biblical times. For example, in the Last Supper story in my book, Jesus and the Apostles are seated on cushions, not on chairs.”
The book contains 14 stories and was an instant hit with Alexander, who was excited to be included with his cousin in the illustration of the story of Jesus and the children.
“They live 350 miles away, so my daughter is reading them to him and he likes the stories very much, but I can’t wait to read them to him myself,” said Streich. “My daughter and son-in-law have been telling everyone about the book for months. When I first told them I was going to publish a book, I thought they might think I was crazy, but they got behind the idea right away.”
Years ago, Streich taught second grade and nursery school, so she was interested in gauging their reaction of that age bracket to her stories and illustrations. At the end of March, she shared her newly printed book with groups of first Communion students and their parents at Our Lady of Lourdes.
“The reactions of the children and parents were very positive,” she said. “The people in the illustrations look Middle Eastern; however, in the story of Jesus and the children, I asked the illustrator to include children of various ethnic backgrounds. The first person to purchase a book was an African American father – I’m not sure if that was a factor or not. We did the same thing in the picture about heaven. There aren’t a lot of faces, but the hairstyles indicate people of various cultures.”
Streich is hosting a book launching party at the Harmony Inn in Greendale on Sunday, May 6.
“This event is open to everybody, and even if you are not in the market for a book, I hope people come to celebrate with me anyway,” she said.