Preview: A Prayer From the Heart by Tammy Fernando, a Catholic Picture Book For Ages Three To Seven
British/Sri Lankan author Tammy Fernando is going to publish her debut picture book, A Prayer From the Heart, in April 2023. She talked to me about the story of this beautiful book for ages three to seven. U.S. artist Kim Merrit created the illustrations.
Tammy gave Books For Catholic Kids permission to use the actual image for the book's cover here in this post's title image. I am honored.
Voila! Isn’t it gorgeous?
A Prayer From the Heart is the story of a prayer answered, a heartfelt prayer asking for a friend by a lonely little boy called Chris. We see Chris in his bedroom and hear him ask God fervently for just one friend on his street.
The reader is not the only one listening to Chris’s plight. The Holy Trinity is listening, too, and acting. As the story unfolds, and Chris’s prayer is answered- with his cooperation- God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit appear in the illustrations watching over him. Three times, we see the Holy Trinity respond to Chris’s prayer and actions in the text. The author has found an innovative way of making kids aware of the threefold nature of God and of His constant care for the one who prays.
The next day in school, Chris’s teacher introduces a new student, Shani from India. Chris whose family is from Sri Lanka, feels a connection. The boy likes her instantly, but it takes some time before he can overcome his extreme shyness and make friends with the girl. Chris has to suffer some more anxiety because the summer vacation is about to separate him from Shani.
The final answer to Chris’s prayer from the heart occurs when the boy finds out that Shani and her friendly family, including three siblings, have just moved into the house next door.
“I wanted to show that God will not only answer our prayers but shower us with more blessings than we asked for,” says Tammy.
Tammy Fernando is a Catholic author from Kent in England. She is not herself a mother but she loves and understands children. She has worked as a nursery school teacher in a Montessori school and is currently working as school receptionist in a high school. Tammy was born in Sri Lanka and came to the U.K. at age two.
Tammy’s first book is a tribute to her brother Chris who passed away at a young age leaving behind his wife and three young children: “I have written five stories altogether but when I wrote this one down, I had a warm feeling. It may have been cathartic, but there was more. I think it was the Holy Spirit.” Tammy hopes to create a series of picture books about Chris.
I was fascinated by the story board Tammy sent me which affords a glimpse into the process of creating a picture book. Below is one of the spreads with sketches by Tammy laid out to facilitate the dialogue between author and illustrator.
During the process Tammy also used a working Illustrations document to communicate her very detailed ideas to her illustrator across the ocean. For example, Tammy told Kim she wanted the teacher to sit on the stairs behind Chris and Shani. She also send her ideas for the image of the Holy Trinity. Kim added her own ideas and below you find the artist's final execution of this spread. Amazing!
What is happening in this book? At first site, A Prayer From the Heart does not recall a folktale or legend. This is because we focus on the contemporary setting. But let us look at the content and style.
Two important theological concepts are illustrated, literally, in word and image: Does prayer work? What is the Holy Trinity like? The author does this by telling a story from the everyday life of a boy who is a contemporary of the reader, forging an immediate connection. Kim Merrit’s realistic illustrations are lively with a wonderful childlike simplicity. They tell the story. The text has the same qualities. Paradoxically, even though the written story came first, Tammy Fernando’s writing describes the illustrations. The words tell the reader what he sees. Author and illustrator are very well matched, indeed.
Parallel to the main plot of a lonely, little boy praying for a friend and having his prayer answered, there is the supernatural plot of the Holy Trinity doing their work. The three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are visible. They are characters. Theologically, two of the persons of the Holy Trinity do not have bodies but our imagination craves to see them.
The “illustration” in word and image of the Holy Trinity and of the answer to Chris’ prayer can only afford a minute and imperfect glimpse of the nature and works of God. However, this glimpse, embedded in a relatable story from everyday life, will catch a child’s imagination and become a teaching tool without a trace of the didactic. And is not this what legends do?
My neighbors, the members of the Quinault Indian Nation, are wonderful storytellers. When they tell a recent story that occurred in their lives, a story with significance that deserves retelling, they call it a legend. They would not hesitate to call A Prayer From the Heart a legend.
I cannot wait to read more books about Chris and Shani!