Meet Nancy Carabio Belanger, the award-winning author behind Olivia and the Little Way and the new sequel, Olivia’s Gift.
Your admiration for St. Therese is seen through your blog as well as through the story of Olivia. What is it that initially drew you to St. Therese?
Honestly, I think it was the fact that she struggled with holiness like any average person, just like I do. She had her strengths and weaknesses; she was not perfect, nor does God expect any of us to be. Through the ups and downs of her life, Therese learned to embrace her littleness. She teaches us that anyone can do something for Jesus, even the least powerful and the littlest among us. She wrote, “Love your littleness and your poverty, it is that, as well as your blind trust in His Mercy, which pleases the good God.”
Mycatholicblog absolutely loves St. Therese’s words on loving others, which read: “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.” (Story of a Soul, Chapter 8). Do you have any words of St. Therese that stand out in particular as motivational or influential in your life?
My absolute favorite quote of hers is not one you see very often, but the first time I read it, it spoke to my heart. It is taken from a letter she wrote right before she died: “…you will not have time to send me your messages for heaven, but I am guessing at them, and then you will only have to tell me them in a whisper, and I shall hear you, and I shall carry your messages faithfully to the Lord, to our Immaculate Mother…and I shall be near you, holding your hand.” WOW. I love that!
Another is something she wrote to an unsure, young seminarian she was corresponding with while she was in the convent. She was a spiritual mentor to him. It is: “Believe that I shall be your true little sister for all eternity.” Those words are very powerful to me, and remind me that she, like the rest of the saints, is always there, waiting to be an intercessor for us in Heaven.
Olivia and the Little Way and Olivia’s Gift both focus on the pre-teen age group. With so many distractions and temptations facing children and young teens today, what is one piece of advice you would give kids, or their parents/family, to help them achieve the sense of modesty that you advocate through your writings?
In Olivia’s Gift, Olivia has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother. I won’t give it all away here, but the essence of it is this: From the moment of every human being’s creation, God has given us great dignity. As young ladies and young men, what does He want you do with that dignity? And if we ignore that dignity of the human person, how does that take away from our relationship with God? Our dignity is a great gift God has given to us out of His immense love for us, to protect us from harm and not to be taken lightly; if we waste it and don’t show it respect, then what are we telling God?
Along these same lines, though both books are written with a “tween” audience in mind, who else can benefit from these books?
I have lots of families reading the books together at bedtime, which leads to great discussions among parents and children. Also, I have so many grandparents who tell me they love the books because it reminds them of how they felt growing up. They also enjoy learning about the life of St. Therese that I weave into the stories of Olivia. It is so sweet because, at book signings, they clutch these books and say to me with sheepish smiles, “I’m going to give it to my grandchild, but I want to read it first!” I love that!
I also enjoy hearing from Catholic schools that are teaching the books as part of their curricula. I truly believe that Olivia and the Little Way and Olivia’s Gift are great teaching materials for Catholic classrooms. I have discussion questions to help teachers get started. Teachers tell me that their students can’t wait to get to religion class when they are teaching the books. It humbles me that I can provide this for Catholic classrooms, and that the kids get so involved in the discussions. With all of the pressures kids are facing today in school, they can really relate to the struggles Olivia goes through. I get letters from students all of the time who tell me that they are now interested in following St. Therese’s Little Way, her path to holiness. She is such a great role model for ‘tweens. And parents and teachers alike love the fact that my books are wholesome and teach valuable lessons that are true to our Catholic faith. With so many mixed messages being thrown at this age group, my books are safe places for kids to go to to learn about God’s plan for each of us. Many homeschooling parents are also actively teaching my books.
We loved your article on catholicmom.com about Lent, in which you stress the importance and peace simplicity can often bring. You also write about the characteristics of children — full of trust and able to love unconditionally, to name a few. Have your own two children served as inspiration in your own quest for these traits?
I think parents can learn so much from their children. Children may sometimes act like they want all of the latest and greatest things, but really, all they want is your time and love. I wish I could give my children everything they desire on the store shelves, but I know that spending time with them and really listening to what they have to say is worth more than anything I can buy them with my Visa card, and they know that too. They are very bright and caring kids, and they love to help me with my writing. My husband and I strive to teach them every day about how simple things are best and have the most meaning, more than anything else. Material things will always break and rust and fail you eventually, but God never will. Also, that trusting God for all your needs, and His Blessed Mother, is the key to a happy life.
Finally, what’s next for Nancy Carabio Belanger?
More books! My goodness, have you seen the shocking material that is available at the public library or the bookstores for our children? Don’t get me wrong, there are many great books there as well, but I cannot get over some of the books I see on the shelves. It is very dangerous. I think a lot of parents just don’t realize what’s in those books. They’re just so happy their kids are reading…but at what cost to their children’s souls? As a writer, I am a very small fish in a gigantic ocean; I realize that. This ocean is filled with writers who celebrate teen sex, disrespect, the occult, and immodesty, and they make big bucks from doing so. Perhaps these writers sleep just fine at night doing that, but I never could. I feel called to write quality books for youths that celebrate being Catholic and the gift of our faith. And I’ll never water our faith down to please the masses; that I can promise you. I am working on a ‘tween fiction novel right now with a troubled boy as the main character, and I love how it is turning out so far. I will let God lead me and tell me what He wants me to do, and I know everything will turn out fine. After all, I’ve got his servant Therese nearby, holding my hand!