Mr. Rogers advised looking for the helpers in troubled times; clearly, Faith Pray is one of those helpers. Her words today seem perfectly timed and I am grateful for the seed she’s planted in my heart and mind: that we each have a brave gift to share, no matter how small and helpless we feel. After her long journey, it is such a complete pleasure to celebrate the kind, wonderful and creative Faith Pray and her lovely picture book, The Starkeeper (Random House Books for Young Readers). And Faith wants to invite us all to a virtual book launch party on June 15th via Zoom. Easy peasy to sign up: https://www.faithpraybooks.com/launchparty

Faith Pray

The Starkeeper (Random House Books for Young Readers) is about a girl who wants to make a difference in the world and a lost star who needs the girl to help it shine. 

When I started writing this story, it wasn’t about a Starkeeper. It was about a girl and a bear who have an adventure. The more I worked on it, though, the more it grew into something else. There was a glowing Thing, and dragons and bats and cats and a whale and a boat and a lighthouse. What a lot of story! I know! Whew! So, I weeded out pretty much everybody, including Bear. The story became The Girl and The Thing. A few revisions later, The Girl and The Thing turned into The Girl and The Wish

Through all this revising, my agent Molly O’Neill of Root Literary kept asking, “What is the one story your heart most needs to tell?” 

I grew up in a family of artists and writers and have been making up my own stories since I was small. I made handwritten, illustrated fairy and poetry booklets for friends and family in grade school, sent stories about selkies and magical suns and moons to editors as a teen, and was revising a middle grade fantasy novel when I had a stroke and then heart surgery to patch a hole in my heart. After that, I wondered if my time was almost up. I struggled to find my writing again. The world felt huge and overwhelming and dark. I wanted to make the most of whatever time I had left, but how? How can one person make a difference in the world, especially when things are hard? 

Something I found in my post-stroke journey is that even in the darkest times, we still have one light to give. And that light is whatever brave gifts that come out of each of us. 

Our gifts, they’re kind of like stars. They’re how we shine. Someone’s star might be words. After my stroke, I couldn’t find my writing and stories anymore, so I took classes in visual storytelling. I used sketching as a way to heal and express. Some stars might be art. Another person’s star might be healing. Maybe someone is a nurse, and works tirelessly to serve and heal people. Someone else uses their voice to move people to action. Another star might make beautiful meals, inspire families to commune together. Another star, a teacher, lighting kids up about books and learning. Someone sends letters. Someone might be learning to speak up or stand up when something doesn’t feel right. All of these are stars.  

And maybe, after asking my heart over and over, “What is the story you most need to tell?” maybe that is how my own story got woven in there – about darkness and light, and small acts of love. I called that draft The Girl and The Star, which is the version that found my editor Maria Modugno at Random House, and eventually, after a few more drafts, became The Starkeeper. 

The illustrations started as thumbnail sketches on sticky notes. I shared the rough layout  (dummy) with my editor and art director, Sarah Hokanson. Once these were approved, I created a model village out of blocks to help me with the setting. The sketches were done on Strathmore board with Blackwing pencils. I painted and drew on top of those with wet Caran D’Ache Supracolor pencils, washes of watercolor, and dry Prismacolor pencils. After each piece was finished traditionally, I scanned the boards into Photoshop and used digital tools to clean up colors and lines and add finishing touches and glazes to each piece.  

I dreamed of making books when I was a kid, and watching The Starkeeper grow into a real book has been luminous. The world is heavy and dark right now, and my hope is that each reader who meets The Starkeeper is sparked to keep shining their brave stars with the world. 

The Starkeeper by Faith Pray

FAITH PRAY (yes, that’s her name by marriage) is an author-illustrator from the Pacific Northwest who regularly wrangles four wildebeests (twins plus two) and two cats. She is passionate about books, literacy, and rainstorms. Coming from a family of artists, when a stroke left this young mother struggling to find herself as a writer again, she started making art. She works in pencil and watercolor with a sprinkling of digital magic on top. To learn more visit her website, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.