As a student, alumna Maria Somes ‘19 was known on the Newman campus for her artistic abilities. Now, those talents can be viewed by young audiences in the children’s book, “The Story of Father Kapaun: A True War Hero,” which she illustrated.
The colorful board book for children was written by Maria’s sister-in-law, Leah Somes. It follows the story of Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun as he answers God’s vocational call to the priesthood.
Envisioning a children’s book
Leah serves as a nurse practitioner in the pediatrics unit at Ascension Via Christi in Wichita. Although “The Story of Father Kapaun” is her first children’s book, her work with kids — both at home and in the hospital — prepared her for the challenge.
One night, Leah felt inspired to create a board book about the story of Father Kapaun. She immediately messaged Maria and asked if she would be interested in illustrating it.
“I said ‘yes,’ of course,” Maria said excitedly. “She sent me the first draft that same night and I couldn’t wait to get started.”
“I’d never really thought about the idea for the book before that night,” Leah said. “I always loved the rhyming book when reading to the kiddos so it was appropriate for it to be a rhyming poem.”
Maria and Leah’s family relationship, personalities and traits complemented each other when it came to collaborating on the children’s book project.
“I’m so grateful and honored that Leah asked me to illustrate and that I was able to help share Kapaun’s story of love and courage with both children and adults alike,” Maria said. “It was really great being able to work together on something so special as this book.”
The impact of illustrations
Picture books had a huge impact on Maria’s life growing up. Young Maria could often be seen with a children’s book under her arm, and she credits her favorite books for teaching her how to draw.
“I’d copy illustrations from them, and fell in love with words and storytelling because of them,” she said.
The five-month-long illustration opportunity fulfilled a childhood dream for Maria.
“I know how much of an impact these books can have on children’s lives, and it’s definitely special to know this book might have the same kind of impact,” she said.
Maria heard Father Kapaun’s story from older siblings, parents and grandparents who had read biographies and other accounts of his servant leadership.
“Listening to these conversations about him really fed my curiosity about his life and legacy, but there weren’t a lot of books about him geared towards young children at the time,” Maria said. “That’s why this book is so special to me and why I felt it was so important to help create and put out there.”
From words to art
Maria used a digital art program called Procreate to draw illustrations for the printed book.
“The (first drawings) were drawn in a completely different style, in a more realistic way,” Maria explained. “But at one point, my initial sketches/drawings were randomly wiped from Procreate with no way of retrieving them.”
It was frustrating to start completely from scratch, but Maria viewed it as a blessing in disguise.
“It gave me the opportunity to connect with my inner child and create more childlike, playful drawings, which obviously turned out to be better suited for a board book,” she said.
Her artwork also includes one of her favorite elements from the children’s books she read as a child — “Easter eggs” or details hidden throughout the pages that readers can search for.
“Naturally, I chose to have a dove follow Emil Kapaun throughout the story to symbolize the Holy Spirit’s constant and guiding presence in his life,” Maria said. “It wasn’t until I was almost finished with the illustrations that I realized the dove was part of the Army Chaplains Corps insignia. So that was a neat connection.”
Readers can also find a yellow flower tucked away in every drawing throughout the book, which holds its own special meaning.
“While doing further research about Kapaun’s childhood, I read that on his way to serve at daily morning mass, Kapaun would stop to pick a bouquet of wildflowers to place at Mary’s altar. To me, this small, childlike act of love and tenderness exemplifies the works of compassion that Kapaun continued to carry throughout his life and that he is most known for, such as staying behind with the wounded soldiers and caring for the sick and dying prisoners of war.”
The flower symbolizes Kapaun’s compassion, courage and light that he generously gave to others.
Sharing Kapaun’s saintly story
Father Kapaun is a true war hero, but the Somes also wanted to show children that he was once like any other child.
“We want kids to learn that Kapaun’s courage to do such extraordinary and heroic things and to serve as a light during dark times came from his heart and his love for others,” Maria said.
Both Someses feel grateful that they played a role in making Father Kapaun’s legacy accessible to young children.
Maria added, “It means so much to be able to serve as a channel for sharing a story that helps parents start a conversation about him and his examples of compassion and courage, which we could all learn from and be inspired by.”
The children’s book, “The Story of Father Kapaun: A True War Hero” is now on sale at Holy Trinity Catholic Books and Gifts (626 N. Winterset St.) in Wichita.
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