Loyola Press president and publisher Joellyn Cicciarelli, whose career as a writer and editor spans 25 years, has always kept an eye on storytelling and books that not only engage children, but are mindful of the challenges and concerns in their lives. For the past 10 years she’s directed teams at Loyola in developing dozens of award-winning books. One of the books on the Loyola list, Meredith’s Gift (Jan.) about a young girl finding hope when her passion for playing basketball could be cut off by illness­, is authored by Cicciarelli. Hope and resilience are major themes in upcoming titles as 2020 has become a year like no other for children's publishers. PW asked Cicciarelli about how she sees Loyola addressing the issues of today and what she sees ahead in 2021.

(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity)

This month, Loyola released a book that challenges kids to make moral and ethical decisions called What Would You Do? 46 Situations for Making Good Choices by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos. How does this fit your vision for Loyola now and going forward?

We’ve recently seen a rise in submissions that fall broadly into two categories: creating/deepening the human connection (building relationships) and individual social-emotional development. Two recent examples for us are the picture books Everyone Belongs (an anti-racism book drawn from a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dec. 2019) and What Would You Do? These are the types of books that appeal to our publishing house in general, and frankly, what the world needs more than ever right now, so we are glad to see these types of proposals come in.

Many publishers are releasing titles that can crossover to the secular market such as The Harwood Mysteries historical fiction series, written by Antony Barone Kolenc, that Loyola launched with a first title July. In February, you’ll add a second title, The Haunted Cathedral. How does Loyola deal with faith in this series?

Our goal was not to publish a historical novel about faith, but to publish a faith-filled historical novel. That means that spirituality and the lessons we want readers to absorb are naturally woven into the words, thoughts, and actions of the characters. And sometimes this includes doubt about the role of God in our lives. That’s a legitimate part of the faith journey as well. This approach offers a novel that transcends beyond a narrow niche of readers and offers a nice blend of entertainment and spiritual enrichment.

What do you think is driving the rise in an adventure/mystery/fantasy titles from faith-based publishers?

We all know how hard it is to break through the noise and appeal to readers with books, especially books involving spirituality. Using adventure and mystery elements within the construct of historical fiction is certainly one way to do that. And in these Covid times, when parents are trying to keep their kids safe and entertained, a good book that teaches without preaching and is from a trusted publisher like Loyola Press is a great way to beat boredom or lessen the amount of screen time for our kids.

The Harwood Mysteries follow the adventures of a protagonist named Xan and his friends as Xan searches for his identity. What else sets the series apart, and what do you see for its future?

These are chapter books with some bonus features including an opening section on how to read historical fiction, an author’s historical note, a glossary, and downloadable companion activity sheets and lessons for both faith-based and secular learning environments—all offering added value in terms of educational opportunities and/or spiritual development. The sales for the first book, Shadow in the Dark, have been robust and give us confidence in the rest of the series. Given that this is our first foray into this genre, [and amid] the current recession, we see a lot of opportunity for the future. (The final book in the Harwood Mysteries series, The Fire of Eden, publishes in July 2021.)

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