Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
It was just like any other dinner hour at our household, with Dad and the mail arriving together. My 3-year-old excitedly tried to pry open the white box that looked like it might be a book. Perhaps it was a book for him, he hoped against hope. And miraculously, it was!
As I put the finishing touches on dinner, my husband read the new book to the children. I heard peals of laughter, and more peals of laughter, and then five voices — including my husband’s — declare that this was our new favorite book.
So, what was this book? I had to find out. It is a new release, Before I Was Me, by artist and author Frank Fraser.
It is the delightful story of a tiny soul talking to God the Father just before he is put into the world, wondering what he might do. It unfolds with a tiny baby exploring all sorts of important things he might do on earth, but with the reminder in the end from God the Father that, “I have great plans for you! I have chosen you to be a very important person whom I will always love.”
I couldn’t resist contacting Frank Fraser myself to find out more about the inspiration behind this new children’s treasure.
Gress: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Fraser: The inspiration for this book was really different from past religious projects.
Other projects have been inspired by scripture, a homily, something I read, or it fulfilled a need. But Before I was Me was not on my creative radar. I was not looking to do this book, but apparently God was looking for me to do this book.
While I was saying a Rosary, which I can really drag out, (you’d think my rosary had a hundred more beads), God showed me the idea. Maybe it was just to get me to finish the Rosary, but it seems he really wanted this book, because virtually the whole outline popped up in my mind’s eye.
Here’s what I ‘saw’; God and a tiny little person having a conversation before the little person was born. The little person wondered what they would become, and God said they were going to be a very important person. The little person imagined what that could mean until God reveals the truth at the end of the story. So, pretty much that whole outline was in my head. And in spite of vowing never to work with a ghostwriter, I thought, since this is the Holy Ghost writer, I’ll do it!
The illustrations are so fun, inviting, hilarious, engaging. Tell me a bit about your background?
I’ve always been creative, it’s all I’ve wanted to do since I tasted the dazzling success of my first big creative assignment which happened in the third grade, when I glued dried beans on cardboard to create a picture of Snoopy. It was magical.
I took those creative skills and ran with them (but of course never with scissors) to become a Creative Director for Disney Consumer Products, and a Creative Director in advertising. I’ve also developed and produced children’s TV shows, websites and all kinds of other creative projects for big and not so big clients.
And the knack for adding entertaining silly moments to a project, that’s a God gift. It’s the way he wired me. It’s the way I see it. I see life though glasses where one side sees the serious, the other sees the silly, and somehow they get focused together into something that is seriously silly. And that is certainly the mix you’ll find in the book.
Mixing a serious portrait of God the Father in his glorious kingdom, with a series of silly child-like visions of life on earth and then back to God, might seem like a daunting task, but fortunately for me, as I said, it’s the way I see it. All praise to God.
What is the take-away you had in mind for the children who read this?
It was clear when I starting putting the book together, this would become a creative expression of Jeremiah 1:5. But the task became figuring out how to break that open for children and express it in a way that will stay in their hearts forever. So I hope Before I Was Me tells children the following truths in a memorable way. You are loved by God and he delights in you just the way you are. You are not important because of what you do, you are important because of who you are. And you are a child of God, his creation, and his love given to the world.
Those are the most important messages I hope Before I Was Me delivers, but to be receptive to those ideas, I felt the book also had to be beautiful. So the settings became a vision of a peaceable kingdom painted as beautifully as I could. So if children see what a beautiful and joyous world we live in, that would be a bonus.
The last thing I’d note is the interconnectedness of God’s creation. The astronaut needed the baker who needed the farmer who needed…etc. We can’t do much without each other, and for sure we can’t do anything without God. Fortunately, he’s always with us, because we are all very important persons whom he will always love.