My children’s bookshelves are lined with thick books about inspiring people. It started with Forward Movement’s book Meet the Saints. I purchased it at the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church primarily because my son’s godmother Melody Shobe co-authored it and she was present signing copies at the Forward Movement exhibit. The following week I began reading it at bedtime and soon saw my then six-year-old incorporate the stories into his imaginative play.
So we began adding to our collection. Next up was the newly published Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, then my daughter was gifted Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History by her godparents. Over the years we picked up Women in Science: Fifty Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, Rad Women Worldwide, and Black Heroes: A Black History Book for Kids from the public library, then renewed all of them half a dozen times so we could carefully pour through each and every entry.
The most recent addition to our collection was Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints by Daneen Akers. I learned of the project on Kickstarter many years ago and bought a copy to give our children for Christmas in 2020. When I read the profiles within this anthology, I realized how profoundly different they were from others of its kind. I immediately ordered copies for our four godchildren who would also receive them as Christmas gifts.
All too the brief biographies in books of this genre tell of brave people who tirelessly worked for justice and peace in almost angelic ways. Holy Troublemakers acknowledges that sometimes this courageous work means rocking the ‘religious boat.’ The people portrayed feel more human and attainable than others in our “Inspiring People Collection,” but no less inspiring. The book is big, gorgeously illustrated book features holy people one might expect—Thich Nhat Hanh, Harriet Tubman, and Fred Rogers, for example. But Akers also chose to include modern saints like Jennifer Knapp, Will Gafney, Rachel Held Evans, and Broderick Greer. Saints who we actually know in real life. And also the holy people whose stories are so often omitted from similar religious collections – LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people, people of other faith, and BIPOC saints.
Akers’ dedication on the copyright page of the book brilliantly articulates what I hoped my children will gain from it:
To all the young holy troublemakers and unconventional saints in the making—
may you find inspiration in these pages to: do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing,
stand up for those who are standing alone,
work together for the common good,
and have courage when the odds are against you.
The future is yours to shape.
Be brave, cause a little trouble when necessary, and love with your whole hearts like the saints who have gone before you.
As we head into the summer months, many churches will soon pause their formation classes. If this is the case for your faith community, I commend the 12-week curriculum created for Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints. The lessons were written by Wendy Claire Barrie, a dear member of our Grow Christians community and expert in children and youth formation within the wider Church. There are two purchase options available online depending on how the curriculum will be used: one for churches and one for personal/family use.
Though the curriculum was designed for the same middle grade audience as the book, I think it would work beautifully for an intergenerational formation class or for a family discussion around the kitchen table. Each lesson focuses on a particular unconventional saint and includes a clearly stated theme, opening and closing prayers, a brief biography for those who do not own a copy of the book, reflection questions, activities for both younger and older ages, a coloring page, and ‘dig deeper’ options which I think would work extremely well for household use when we have more time available to explore.
I will never stop reading the stories of courageous people to our children. These profiles offer living examples of how one person can affect both local and global change. I want my children to understand that when we are motivated and guided by the tenets of our faith, anything is possible. Even if it means rocking the religious boat.
What Inspiring People Books line the bookshelves in your home?