Picture Book Journey

St. Gertrude and her cats

Five years ago, I came across this St. Patrick’s Day meme, commemorating Gertrude of Nivelles, who is popularly considered to be the patron saint of cats. Her feast day also being March 17, she is always overshadowed by the more famous patron saint of Ireland.

I had never heard of St. Gertrude of Nivelles before, but the meme got me thinking about all the saints who had close connections to animals: St. Jerome, who lived with a lion; St. Anthony, who preached to the fishes; St. John Bosco and his dog, and so on.

“I bet I could write a picture book about saints who loved animals!” I thought. And that’s how A is for Anthony was born. Originally, I simply intended to write a collection of a few stories about saints who had animal friends or famous encounters with animals. As I struggled to figure out how best to organize the stories, I had the idea of arranging them alphabetically and making an alphabet of saints. That made my task harder (it’s not easy to find 26 stories about saints and animals!), but the result was worth the work.

At the time, believe it or not, I could find no alphabet books about saints, apart from a very old one by Robert Hugh Benson. Since then, more than one Catholic small press has come out with an ABC of saints, so readers today have more choices. But so far as I know, A is for Anthony is the only alphabet book focused on both saints and animals!

The funny thing about this origin story is that you won’t find Gertrude of Nivelles in my book. It turns out her connection to cats is actually very tenuous, so she was replaced by other saints who had stronger connections to animals.

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