By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
One never knows what might spark inspiration.
Leftover paint. A worldwide pandemic. A leap of faith.
For Allison Hsu, a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Richardson, all three of those things played a role in inspiring her to illustrate a recently published children’s book, “The Gospel of Matthew for Little Ones.”
“I would have never imagined I’d be illustrating books,” Hsu said. “It’s definitely been a blessing and an amazing journey.”
Hsu’s journey began simply enough. She had a degree in medicine and worked as a non-clinical pediatrician before choosing to stay home with her three daughters. She also had a love of art that had been a part of her life from an early age.
“I always kind of doodled,” said Hsu, who added that she was even welcomed into her school’s gifted-and-talented program for art while growing up in Garland. “It’s just something that has always fascinated me.”
When she quit her practice to homeschool her children, Hsu began looking for ways to enhance their faith formation classes, not knowing that exercise would prove to be the inspiration that would change her life.
“I got into painting peg dolls,” Hsu explained. “It was just a way to help educate my kids. It was a fun way to introduce math manipulatives and storytelling.”
From painting the peg dolls, Hsu’s artistic interests only grew.
“I had a lot of leftover paint from what I thought would be a one-time project so I started experimenting with painting,” Hsu said. “It was just something to do at the time.”
Hsu started by painting random buildings, even doing one of her former parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus Chinese Catholic Church, to be sold in a benefit auction for the Plano parish. She learned techniques by watching online videos and tutorials, honing her talent while teaching herself to paint.
Then everything came to a screeching halt as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world…and inspiration struck Hsu once again.
“When the pandemic hit, we were all stuck at home,” Hsu recalled. “I just started sketching things at home and started sketching my kids. It’s not something I’d really done before, but I was enjoying it so I started sharing it with my friends online.”
Hsu’s artwork caught the attention of Sara Beth Meyer, a friend, and a fellow Sacred Heart of Jesus parishioner.
“Everything was just in upheaval at that time. People were at home. People were angry. The news was just so full of angst,” Hsu said. “My friend saw this as an opportunity for us to focus on God, on our faith. She suggested, ‘Why don’t we try writing a children’s book?’”
Meyer, who now resides in Houston, had experience as a freelance writer for such publications as Liguorian, Catholic Parent, and other family and faith-based magazines. This project, however, would be her first foray into writing children’s books. The duo decided to focus on the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Meyer wrote, and Hsu drew inspiration from those words to illustrate.
“We decided that for every three stanzas, I’d pick one stanza to illustrate on the corresponding page,” Hsu said. “I’d read through it and something would resonate with me.”
To illustrate, Hsu drew inspiration from classic artists such as Caravaggio while applying what she had learned from online videos. The result was her own unique style of illustrations, intertwining symbols and imagery of classic artists with Hsu’s own personality.
“I wanted to draw in a way that kids could learn and identify with the stories,” she said, citing as examples the use of classic images of halos and Jesus traditionally dressed in red and white.
Meyer entrusted their work to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and, as if by providence, their first book, “The Gospel of Matthew for Little Ones,” was published by Marian Press in 2022. Meyer and
Hsu continue to collaborate on the other books as well as future projects.
“It feels like I’m living an alternative lifestyle,” said Hsu, recalling the words of author Msgr. Charles Pope. “When we are living our lives, it’s like we’re on a boat. We can either drive it like a motorboat and go against the current or we can go where the Holy Spirit blows — put up your sails and let Him lead you to where He wants you to go.
“That’s how I feel, like I’ve been blown on a different course,” Hsu added. “And it’s pretty awesome.”
Editor’s Note: Copies of “The Gospel of Matthew for Little Ones,” written by Sara Beth Meyer and illustrated by Allison Hsu can be found at https://shopmercy.org/the-gospel-of-matthew-for-little-ones.html.