Bilingual stories teach children about virtues

Francesca Follone-Montgomery lives a life of creative improvisation that has seen her write four books  

By Gabrielle Nolan

Francesca Follone-Montgomery, OFS, likes to adapt the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

“I say, make a lot of things: lemon cream pie, lemon cookies,” she laughed. “Whatever inspiration, be creative, make life like a jazz improvisation. I got so much more out of life being able to improvise a little bit, with the help of God.”

Mrs. Montgomery, a parishioner at All Saints in Knoxville, has lived a life of creative improvisation.

Originally from Italy, Mrs. Montgomery was born in Florence and grew up in Florence and Pisa.

She moved to the United States in 1998, wanting to be a jazz singer and write a book about the American composer and pianist George Gershwin. Instead, God had different plans.

She lived in Washington, D.C., for 10 years, where she met and married her husband, Paul, and worked at various jobs, from a center for international studies to a military medical center.

Mrs. Montgomery and her family moved to Knoxville in 2008, where for a time she worked at the Paraclete Bookstore. For over 10 years, she has taught Italian at the University of Tennessee.

Francesca Follone-Montgomery

And her latest endeavor? Writing children’s books.

When Mrs. Montgomery celebrated her 50th birthday last summer, she looked at her life and pondered her accomplishments.

“I always had the idea that we’re called to spread the Gospel somehow in our actions or words,” she said. “So I thought whatever I was telling my son when he was little, in those stories, maybe that was worth sharing. So that’s where the idea came about.”

Her son, Anthony, is now 18 and going off to college soon. When Anthony was a child, she would tell him stories from his pillowcase.

“I reached out to the pillowcase and pretended that it was a magic pillowcase that would give me the story,” she said.

“This past year, we were wondering about the next chapters in our lives, and he said to me, ‘Mom you need to do something with your life that brings you joy.’ And so I thought, OK, what about those stories? I remember what joyful times in my recent adult life it was to tell you stories when you were little, to be with you. So he said, ‘Well, write them,’” she laughed.

Her series of children’s books focus on four different virtues:

  • The Song is about joy and “tells how a little bird becomes aware that in her heart is all the strength needed to fight fear and find gratitude.”
  • The Plan is about hope and “reveals a very important and surprising plan.”
  • The Journey is about faith and “describes the journey of a little creature searching for something, or rather someone, and how he gradually discovers that what he was looking for was already in his heart.”
  • The Friend is about love and “tells the story of a little bud who discovers the importance of sharing God’s love.”

The books, which are bilingual in English and Italian, also serve as coloring books for children.

“The English part of the book has the illustrations in color, and the part in Italian has the illustration in black and white so the children can enjoy coloring if they choose to,” Mrs. Montgomery said.

“I was a pretty good writer in Italian,” she said. “Now, of course, English is not my native language, so I need a lot of editing. I figured if I start with children’s stories, the language should be fairly simple, and maybe I could handle it.”

“Starting with children’s stories, yes, there is a simple language, but also why not? We are all children of God, right, we are not adults of God, which means we’re all in a growth spurt hopefully,” she continued. “We’re in a growing journey, on a growing journey, and I think that with faith, hope, love, and joy we can grow because we should be open to God’s plans for us.”

Mrs. Montgomery said her books are an opportunity to do two things.

“One is to give back, to thank all the people in my life who have brought Christ to me and brought me closer to God, and the second reason would be to hopefully share God with others,” she noted.

“I felt a little bit of a call trying to do these, and I think there might be more books to come; I’m discerning which one is the next,” she said. “Hopefully this is the beginning of something, but even if it were to lead me to these four children’s stories, hopefully they can help others understand, especially when you’re little and trying to figure out about things, knowing that God loves you and you are on a journey, He has a plan for you, He’s your friend, and if you’re grateful your heart may feel like singing. Why not tell the kids that and help them focus on God? This world we live in certainly needs all the help we can give.”

Her faith has been inspired by family and friends.

“My parents were very devout Catholics and my grandparents, too,” Mrs. Montgomery said. “And my godparents were amazing people of great faith.”

Mrs. Montgomery is a third order Franciscan, and her books always contain a thank you to her Franciscan brothers.

“Being from Italy and not having family here but just my husband, Paul, my father- and mother-in-law, I just thought, wow, I feel at home every time I go to this Franciscan meeting,” she said, noting that becoming a Franciscan was a “spiritually enriching journey.”

“I got more and more drawn into it, and I realized, the Franciscans, that what we’re called to do is bring the Gospel to life and life to the Gospel, is kind of our motto. So with this book the idea is to start from a Gospel verse and bring it to life for the kids to understand it. And that’s another characteristic of these books,” she said.

As for those lemons and plans for the future?

“I’m just trying to figure out every day what the Lord is calling me to do next,” said Mrs. Montgomery.

Her books are published by Xlibris US and can be purchased on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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