Thirty Years of Creating Quality Catechetical Resources

Thirty Years of Creating Quality Catechetical Resources Joan and Paul Plum, I Am Special and IAS Marketing by Lisa M. Hendey with Paul S. Plum Joan and Paul Plum offer a shining example of discerning and saying "yes" to God's call to vocation. As a young mother of three and a Catholic school kindergarten teacher in the 1970's, Joan Plum recognized the need for high quality catechetical resources for her young students. Joan created and piloted a program for her students and shared it with the Sunday schoolers at her parish. Within a few years, Joan and her husband Paul published the first I Am Special program and began selling it by mail order from their home. I learned about Paul and Joan Plum when I was lucky enough to run across their latest book Teach Me about a Church Inside & Out: Discussions and Activities for Children. This simple yet expansive paperback introduces children and their parents to the various items related to our Church and Catholic liturgy. Alphabetically, the book defines terms from Altar to Vestment, providing informative descriptions, outline illustrations suitable for coloring, and interactive elements to engage the reader. I have found this book to be an excellent teaching tool with my own children, especially my young Thurifer. If you don't know what a Thurifer is, you too will benefit from reading Teach Me about a Church Inside & Out: Discussions and Activities for Children. Thirty years, one partnership with Our Sunday Visitor, and countless books and resources later, Paul and Joan Plum continue to say "yes" to their catechetical vocation by bringing new and exciting tools for teaching our youngest Catholics and their families. I am pleased to share the following interview with Joan and Paul Plum and to highlight the fine work of the Plums and IAS Marketing. Q: Is there any difficulty to working as a team in your writing? A: No, not really. We each brought our own particular knowledge and skills to the project. For example, Joan's academic knowledge and classroom experience complement Paul's organizational and creative skills. Q: What special challenges do you face in writing for children? A: First of all, you should define your audience. The concepts introduced need to be age appropriate. In dealing with activities we keep in mind the various communities (city, rural, suburban), possible experiences, and ethnic backgrounds of the children. We try to complement the child's emergent academic, social, emotional, physical, and moral development. Q: Please say a few words about the illustrations in your books. A: The illustrations for three of the books (Jesus, the Mass, and Prayer) were completed by Andee Most. Andee has been the artist for the I Am Special program since 1980. Joan and I have enjoyed working with Andee for over 25 years until her retirement this past year. Her stylized art and happy drawings have been enjoyed by millions of children, teachers, and parents. The illustrations for the other three books (Mary, Saints, and the Church) were completed by Mimi Sternhagen. Mimi is a very talented freelance artist who has a valuable background and experience in religious art. We look forward to working with her on future projects. Q: I love your newest book, Teach Me about a Church Inside & Out: Discussions and Activities for Children. What prompted you to write this book and what are your goals for the book. A: This resource book is targeted to 4th and 5th graders. It should also be useful to boys and girls serving Mass and could be used as a simple reference for those running a RCIA and/or RCIC program. This book is also a follow up to a church kit called Teach Me About the Church that includes a white cardboard church model, 51 four-color pieces of church elements and furnishings and an instruction book. Fully assembled, the church is approximately 12" wide x 20" long and 20" high. Our goals for this book can be found in our message to teachers and parents found on the inside cover of the book: " Acquainting and explaining to children the various items related to church and liturgical services can help them feel more comfortable in participating in liturgical prayer and worship. At the same time, through your instruction and example they will learn to respect their parish church as a special house of prayer, a holy temple, and a house of God. The church as God's house is a visible sign of God's presence among us (Cf. CCC 1179-1181). We find Jesus present in the people gathered, the priest who leads us in prayer, and in the words from sacred Scripture that we hear (Cf. CCC 1141-1142; 1153-1155). In this sacred place, the children and the adults of the parish assemble for the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist (Mass) and receive the spiritual nourishment of Christ himself in Holy Communion (Cf. CCC 1392). And lastly, their parish church also serves as a symbol, reminder, and promise of God's house yet to come (Cf. CCC 1198)." Q: The interactive nature of the activities in your books definitely reinforces the concepts presented. Why is this so important when writing for children? A: The classical adage from John Dewey is appropriate here "Children learn by doing." When children are actively involved in their learning, they are more likely to process and remember concepts learned. Q: I learned a thing or two myself in sharing this book with my children. What type of research went into writing the book? Did you learn any new or interesting facts in the process? A: We started by mentally visiting some of the many churches that we've been to over the years and then categorized the various items we could recall. We talked to our pastor, deacon, a Parish Director and others about the contents of our book. The other references we used are listed on the inside cover of the book. During the research process, Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia proved to be the most helpful resource. It is also a fun book to browse through and read about the historical background of topics. Q: What closing comments would you like to share with our readers? A: Through divine revelation we know and believe that our dignity as individual human persons originates from our Creator's love for us: God created humanity in the divine image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them. (Cf. Gn 1:27) As we grow in knowledge and experience, we also learn that God has provided each of us with talents, qualities, and interests that enhance our uniqueness as individuals. A key objective of our Catechetical ministry over the past 30 years was to contribute to that discovery process in order to help young children offer God a response of Christian faith and love at their level of understanding and participation. Emphasizing the children's self-assurance and self-esteem during their early years is important for their faith development because in the process they will have learned that God provided each of them with qualities, talents, and capabilities that make them special. And then, through prayer and song, we can help children praise and thank God for their gifts. Young children's development of high self-esteem is also a step in the life-long process of fulfilling God's commandment that Jesus gave us: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Cf. Mt 22:39) For young children, who are just emerging out of their natural egocentric state, the necessary starting point is with the children's self-concept. The challenge for parents, teachers, and catechists is to affirm and build upon the children's self-esteem and, then, guide them to interact with others with the same kind of positive attitude and love that the children have for themselves. For more information about Teach Me about a Church Inside & Out: Discussions and Activities for Children visit Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including and, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at for more information.