Last year, husband and wife Ilow and Sheri Roque of La Jolla, Calif., started Rock House Press, a publishing company of Catholic children’s books.
Their entrepreneurship developed from observation: The Roques saw a lack of quality faith-based children’s literature. “I began to look at works of fiction both in books and other entertainment forms and found that an implicit secularism was being advocated,” Ilow explains. “There was a complete lack of any faith elements in these stories.”
So they took action.
“What we decided to do is to acculturate our faith using strong Catholic themes and images into imaginative works of children’s fiction. We want to make the Catholic Church present in works of the imagination,” shares Ilow. “We believe that it is vitally important to have our Catholic Church present in children’s stories.”
The result is Rock House’s first book, The Purples Are Coming, which was released last December.
While the couple worked together on the language and the plot of this tale, Sheri made the story’s characters come to life through her illustrations. Although she is not an artist by trade, Sheri has always enjoyed being creative.
But drawing her first book was much harder than she thought. “Hours and hours are put into a drawing,” she says. “Then after evaluating whether or not it is good enough, conveying the emotion I’m going for, I may throw it away and start over.”
With language that is poetic and illustrations that are lush and whimsical, the Roques say that this fun story of spring in the animal kingdom is one that is meant to be read out loud by kids of all ages.
“I loved creating these little critters, each with their own personality,” Sheri explains. “I know it sounds cliché, but you really do start thinking of the animal pals as individuals, calling them by name and wondering what they will be up to next.”
A number of lessons are included in the book: We are all children of God, prayer is important, and we are happiest when we live in fellowship with God and our friends.
Sheri says that all the hard work in this new publishing endeavor is worth it if their books bring children joy. Recently, she received a review from a mother of a 3-year-old who insists on having the book read to her every night. When the mother and her kids were out at a local nursery, the children saw some purple heather and yelled out, “The Purples!” The mom ended up bringing the plant home for the family garden.
“It’s stories like that,” says Sheri, “that warm my heart.”
There has been a lot of talk about this new children’s title at Our Lady’s Gifts, a small Catholic book and gift store in San Diego. Manager Mary Ann Gleason remembers well the day The Purples arrived. She had been promoting the new release via word of mouth for some time when a young man came into the gift shop asking for the book. Within minutes, Gleason recalls, a UPS truck pulled up and unloaded a box of 50 books. The man bought two copies that afternoon.
Already a Hit
Since then, she says, the book has sold steadily, with about 30 copies the first month. “The book has done well,” says Gleason. “We’ve been advertising it in a number of nearby parishes.”
Father James Kubicki, national director of Apostleship of Prayer, has said of the book: “The artwork is tremendous, and I liked the poetic rendering of the story. I suspect there is a great need out there for good children’s literature that teaches the virtues, and I feel so honored to have children introduced to the apostles of prayer in this way.”
In a review at RockHousePress.com, Catholic school teacher Lisa Wolfer said, “My kindergarten students absolutely love this book. ... It is remarkable to witness these 5- and 6-year-olds use elements from the story and illustrations to teach each other about their faith.”
The book, which received an imprimatur from Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego, is just the beginning for Rock House Press. In fact, it is the first in the “Happiness March Adventure” series.
The next two books, The Bees Are Missing and The Brothers Karrynutsoff, are both on the drawing board and due out within the year.
A number of like-minded artists and writers are interested in being a part of Rock House Press. While the Roques are open to bringing them on board, first they want to be established in the publishing market.
“As a brand-new publishing company, what we are focused on right now is that the ‘Happiness March Adventure’ series is well published and has the kind of distribution that we need,” shares Ilow.
Down the road, Rock House Press hopes to expand to video games and television.
Says Ilow, “We’d like to see Rock House Press emerge as a premier source of quality Catholic content for children.”
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Green Bay, Wisconsin.