Arts & MediaNews

New mouse tale weaves faith and fun for kids


Share this article:

SAN DIEGO — It’s no mystery where Haley Stewart got the idea for her children’s book series.

“It sounds unbelievable, but I actually had a dream about mouse nuns who lived under G.K. Chesterton’s house,” the author said during a June 6 telephone interview with The Southern Cross.

That dream became reality with the publication of her three “Sister Seraphina Mysteries” books. The most recent installment, titled “The Strange Sound by the Sea,” was published in early June.

Published by Pauline Books & Media, the series represents Stewart’s first foray into the world of children’s fiction-writing, which was “a totally new adventure” for the Catholic blogger, podcaster and author of two non-fiction books for adults.

She feels that the idea for the children’s books was “gifted” to her and, during the COVID-19 lockdown, presented her with “a fun project to escape to.”

The books’ central conceit is that, under the floorboards of English writer and Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton’s home, one will find the miniature world of St. Wulfhilda’s Abbey and School. Sister Seraphina, her fellow Sisters of Our Lady Star of the Sea, and their young students are anthropomorphic mice.

Stewart, who grew up enjoying animal fiction like Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series, which centers on an abbey founded and populated by woodland creatures, imagined what might happen if the religious rodents of St. Wulfhilda’s were inspired by Chesterton’s famous “Father Brown” stories to try their hand — er, paw — at solving mysteries of their own.

Chesterton’s Father Brown was a simple parish priest who proved to be a capable detective thanks to the insights on human nature that he acquired in the course of his ministry.

Though the premise for her “Sister Seraphina Mysteries” came while she was sleeping, it was during Stewart’s hours of wakefulness that she fleshed out the idea. Among her challenges was coming up with mysteries that would be “exciting, but not terrifying” for young readers.

The first book, “The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese,” deals with efforts to recover a prized cheese that was to be auctioned off to raise funds for needed repairs to the school. Its first follow-up, “The Curious Christmas Trail,” focuses on the search for an elderly nun who has gone missing on Christmas Eve. The most recent book takes place during a summer holiday at the beach, where an unexplained, shriek-like sound is repeatedly heard in the night.

To give the stories a child’s perspective and characters relatable to young readers, Stewart decided that the abbey would have a school attached to it and that two of its students, Marigold “Goldie” Mouseweather and Dominic “Dom” Whiskerbright, would assist Sister Seraphina as co-detectives.

The resulting books consist of just a few short chapters each, and the text is accompanied by Betsy Wallin’s color illustrations. Stewart sees the books as appropriate for reading aloud to children age 4 and older, and for children to begin reading independently around age 7.

Stewart, a mother of four as well as the managing editor of Word on Fire Spark, an imprint for young readers, was able to turn to her own children for feedback and suggestions as she wrote her mystery stories.

In addition to presenting young readers with age-appropriate mysteries to solve, Stewart also hopes that her books “offer a picture of religious life” to children who are “starting to imagine their future and think about their vocation.”

Without being preachy, the books depict the characters’ Catholicism as a natural part of their daily lives. For example, Stewart noted that the books include moments where characters might have to cut a conversation short after realizing that it’s time for vespers. Such things are “woven into the story” and show that the sisters’ faith is “the center of their world and their mission.”

With the most recent book completing a trilogy, are there any mysteries left for Sister Seraphina to solve?

Stewart said she “would love to do at least one more.”

“I’ve almost settled on a plot (for another installment), so hopefully there’ll be a fourth one. And then, after that, who knows?”

Tags: , , , , , ,

Recent News

You May Also Like

No results found.