Engaging Catholic Fiction for Young
A Catholic Author Interview with Erin MacLellan,
Run from the Nun!
By Lisa M. Hendey
Hand your child a book that combines the elements of
community service, the benefits of a Catholic faith formation, and the
challenge and rewards of adapting to life’s ever-changing nature. Author
Erin MacLellan delivers all this and more with her engaging first novel,
Run from the Nun! (Holiday House,
October, 2003, hardcover, 128 pages) This action-packed mystery, aimed at
readers ages 9 through 13, finds its central character Kara adapting to
life at her new Catholic school. Catholic themes abound in this fun book
- you’ll want to read along with your kids.
Author Erin MacLellan shared the following thoughts on
writing for young readers and the impact of her Catholic faith on her
Q: It’s great to be able to share the following
Catholic Book Spotlight interview with Erin MacLellan, author of the
wonderful chapter book
Run from the Nun! Erin, please tell us
about yourself and your family.
A: I live near Columbus, Ohio, with my husband, Greg,
and my six-year-old son Jake. I stay busy taking care of my family,
working on a new novel, doing school visits and volunteering in the
Whenever I have free time, I curl up with a book. I've
always loved reading and writing stories. When I was 10 years old, I
started a newspaper called “The Summer Weekly”. Each issue included a
weekly installment of my serial story featuring a young detective named
Katie Lang. I think I was inspired to write about Katie Lang after
reading tons of Nancy Drew books. Today, I also love reading children's
books about friendship, family and school life. My second home is the
children's section of our local library, where I check out dozens of books
for my son and for me. Jake and I spend a lot of time using our
imagination and creating adventure stories.
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your first
Run from the Nun!
Since this is a mystery, I don’t want you to give
away the ending – but can you tell us the basic plot of the book?
A: My book is about a 10-year-old girl named Kara
McKinney, who wants to get kicked out of St. Joan of Arc School. She's
been transferred there by her parents after four years in public school.
Kara desperately misses her best friend at her old school, so she vows to
win her freedom.
She embarks on a series of misadventures in her quest to
escape. Her plan to disrupt the school’s food drive backfires, and she is
recruited for the nunnery. To add to her troubles, Kara is spooked by
Gino, the school janitor. Rumor has it that Gino is digging up bodies in
the church cemetery. Kara decides that if she can expose Gino, her parents
will let her return to her former school. It's a humorous story, about
friendship and adjusting to change.
from the Nun! is set in a Catholic
school and features many wonderful Catholic elements. What impact has
your Catholic faith had on your writing? Did you intentionally set out to
write a book based in Catholicism?
A: I got the idea for my book based on my own personal
experience. I was transferred to Catholic school when I was in fifth
grade, and I always wanted to write a story about the adventures and
friends I made at my new school.
I wanted to write a fun story that any child could
enjoy, not just Catholic school students. Yet the Catholic school setting
was special to my heart. When I was growing up, I always wanted to read
books about kids in parochial school, and I couldn't find any. As I
developed the plot for my book, I enjoyed weaving in the everyday aspects
of Catholic school and elements of the Catholic faith. I think faith is
very important, and I certainly drew on it heavily throughout the writing
process, especially when my novel was rejected by other publishers. I
learned that you have to have faith in your book, and that God will help
you. I believe that my Catholic school education gave me the gifts of
persistence, faith and inspiration. In fact, it was my eighth grade
teacher, Sister Barbara Quinn, who told me that I'd be a children's author
one day. And she was right!
Q: I would love to see more children’s literature
featuring Catholic characters and Catholic settings. What can we do to
support and encourage Catholic authors?
A: The best thing you can do is spread the word about
my book and other books with Catholic story elements. As an author, it's
hard to let the world know your book is available! Publishers have very
limited funds to promote first-time authors like me, so I've done most of
the promotion myself through mailings and phone calls. I also love doing
author visits and meeting kids at school. Surprisingly, more public
schools have booked me for author visits than Catholic schools, which
surprised me. It's been harder than I thought it would be to reach
Catholic school librarians, and I'm not sure why. I would really love to
talk to more students, teachers and parents involved with Catholic
Q: Kara, the main character of
Run from the Nun!, initially rebels
against being forced to transfer to a Catholic school. In the end, she
has a change of heart. I also loved the elements of community service
present in the book. Did you attend Catholic schools? How can we
encourage our young people to become involved in projects of service to
A: Yes, Kara does rebel. It's hard for her to switch
schools, because she's leaving behind her best friend and she's never
attended a Catholic school before. Kara is worried that Catholic school
life will be bizarre, and she fears that she won't make new friends.
However, she soon gets drawn into school life and is put in charge of the
food drive to help needy families. I loved writing the section about the
food drive, because it brought back many memories. My Catholic elementary
school sponsored annual food drives, and my mother often guided these
efforts, so I knew a lot about canned food collections! I also attended
Catholic high school, where the spirit of community service was strong. I
think schools and parents should provide lots of opportunities for
community service. It's also important to let the students come up with
project ideas and take the lead in getting the job done. They'll find out
how rewarding and fun it can be.
Q: The conclusion of
Run from the Nun! hinted that we might
be in for another adventure featuring Kara and her new friends. Do you
have future plans for a series? What are your goals for future writing
A: I would love to write more books about Kara and her
friends. To do that, I need to have strong sales with this first book
before the publisher would consider more. So I need lots of people to buy
the book! I hate having to think about the sales aspect, but it is a
reality. I have worked on a new Kara book, but I'm spending most of my
time now on another book, which is about an 11-year-old girl struggling to
adapt to her new stepfamily. I plan to keep on writing books, articles and
stories until I'm very, very old!
Q: Erin, thank you again for
Run from the Nun! – a book Catholic
parents will definitely want to purchase for their children. Would you
like to add any closing thoughts?
A: I want to thank you so much for the chance to "chat"
with you and your readers. I'm so glad you liked
Run from the Nun! and are recommending
it. By the way, Catholic News Service also recommended my book, and I got
positive reviews in School Library Journal, Children's Literature and
several other publications. I hope we can get more books out in the
marketplace about Catholic schools!
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Run from the Nun! visit
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