Reshaping the Church

“Ambitious Abbey” ignites purpose within the hearts of children

Posted April 29, 2024

by Sara Junkins

“Ambitious Abbey” Book Covers and author Abbey Duplaga. Pictured are the character-building books and a special edition cookbook. Courtesy of Abbey Duplaga.

After a life-changing encounter with the Lord, author Abbey Duplaga said she felt spiritually led to start “Ambitious Abbey,” a book series that aims to empower children to be who God created them to be through life-giving, relatable stories revolving around Christ-centered values.

In an interview with Koinesúnē Magazine, Duplaga said the virtues, values and morals within her books reflect the Bible. She highlighted how it is important to instill these traits within kids at a young age, equipping them with life skills that will set them up for success in whatever God calls them to do in life.

“The whole Bible is about being sanctified and restored and reconciled in those ways that are not of the world but of Christ,” Duplaga said. “And, what better way to teach kids when they are ‘sponges’ — when they're little and they can absorb anything to teach them the foundation that they need to be a testimony and to shine a light for His glory?”

Godly Ambition

In 2017, Duplaga had been sitting in prayer one night when the title of the book series came to her, she said.

“At first, I was thinking, ambition is bad,” Duplaga said. “I started thinking ambition was worldly and successful and all about gaining something for yourself.”

However, Duplaga said she felt God correcting her — she realized godly ambition was different from worldly ambition.

“To have ambition is to just have a drive or determination to do something, and all through the Bible, when God talks about blessing the work of our hands and putting our hands to the plow, we aren't to be lazy; we're to work,” Duplaga said. “So, why not be determined or ambitious to do something good for humanity and bring virtues, values, morals and character to society as a whole, where it's been lost?”

Duplaga’s Writing Process

Duplaga bases her books on experiences from her childhood, she said. Some of these experiences include baking with her mom in the kitchen, running a lemonade stand, going on a fishing trip with her dad and sharing a room with her sister.

In the “Ambitious Abbey” series, there are four character-building books and a special edition cookbook so far, each one inspired by real stories from her childhood and focusing on skills she has learned throughout her life, Duplaga said. She highlights traits such as perseverance, leadership, attitude and responsibility.

When choosing a plot for each book, Duplaga said she turns to God and prayer.

“I pray about it, and I say, ‘Lord, I know that these books are inside of me, and you have the plot, so I'm just praying that you bring it forth,’” Duplaga said. “But [the ideas] mostly come from an idea or a situation that I might have faced in my life, and then, I kind of think about how I could write that into a story.”

Duplaga said it can take a couple days to think about storylines since sometimes they start as a small idea and then evolve.

“So then, I will sit down, and the plot will just start to come to me,” Duplaga said. “I think, ‘How is it going to start? What's the problem, the conflict? And how are we going to resolve this?’”

For example, perseverance is the key theme of “Ambitious Abbey Tries Again,” Duplaga said.

“I was thinking, ‘What can I teach that would show them not to give up?’ And then, all of a sudden, fishing came to my head,” Duplaga said. “I knew it was supposed to be a story about a fishing adventure with her dad and how she had to fight through failing.”

The stories resonated well with the kids, as they loved their realistic nature, Duplaga said.

“It’s almost like I'm telling them the truth, and they appreciate that,” Duplaga said. “I don't know how to explain it, but they love the fact that I'm telling them stuff I actually did, and that it's not out of reach or unattainable.”

Abbey Duplaga visits Buckeye West Elementary School in Adena, Ohio, on Nov. 16, 2023. She said she brought the first four books in her series to read to the children. Photo courtesy of Abbey Duplaga.

School Readings

When Duplaga goes into schools to read her work, she said she often gets positive reactions from the children, teachers and parents.

The kids recite lines back to her word-for-word and remember specific details from the stories, Duplaga said.

Teachers have told her in amazement that their kids do not sit still for that long, and they are shocked she kept their attention for 45 minutes, Duplaga said. She knows it is the Lord at work, and she conveys His joy through her uplifting delivery as well.

Kids may face a lot of negativity at home, so a joyful presence can make a huge difference, Duplaga said.

“It's like they experience that love and connection, that joy and peace you're carrying, and they know something is different,” Duplaga said. “And, what's cool about some of the schools I go back to is the kids remember the last time I was there, and they'll tell me specific details about the story or something that I've shared.”

Duplaga reads to children at Buckeye West Elementary School in Adena, Ohio, on Nov. 16, 2023. She said she asked them recall questions and responded to their comments on the books. Photo courtesy of Abbey Duplaga.

Ministering to the Hearts of Children

When children in public schools ask her how she gets the ideas for the stories, Duplaga tells them that she is a friend of God and that He wanted her to do this, she said.

Duplaga ministers to them in a way that they will understand, and she tells them that everyone has a gift in them and a purpose, she said.

“I know my mission is more than just taking the books in there,” Duplaga said. “I'm there to carry God's presence, and I'm there to encourage the kids.”

Duplaga tells the kids to think about what they really love doing and what really inspires them, she said.

“I tell them, God plants that in you at a young age, and that's how you figure out what your purpose is because whatever you just could do for hours and get lost doing — that's connected to what you have to give to the world,” Duplaga said.

Duplaga shares her books with Bellaire Elementary School in Bellaire, Ohio, on Nov. 17, 2023. She said she loved their reactions as sometimes the children start clapping and telling her how they love the stories. Photo courtesy of Abbey Duplaga.

Duplaga regularly hears about how God is working through her books, she said.

On her first book tour, when she went to a school in Delaware, Duplaga said she received a message from the teacher sharing how the kids were studying about a lady in Africa who wanted to build water wells — they were trying to figure out a way that they could raise money to send over there.

They were inspired to create a lemonade stand because of the storyline in the first book, “Ambitious Abbey,” Duplaga said.

“They earned $400 on this lemonade stand, and they sent it overseas to the woman building water wells,” Duplaga said. “They got recognized by some kind of foundation for doing it because of their heart behind wanting to help.”

Moments like this keep her going, Duplaga said.

Another time, a parent wrote to her to share how their child was inspired to write a story after her school visit, Duplaga said.

“They said, ‘I just wanted to let you know how thankful I am for whatever you did to inspire my child today because he came home from school, and he started writing a story about himself and wanted me to edit it and proofread it,’” Duplaga said. “It's just so precious to hear the feedback that my work is stirring up purpose.”

Duplaga travels to Uganda on a mission trip where she met middle school aged children Aug. 1, 2023. She said she brought her books to read to the children. Photo courtesy of Abbey Duplaga.

Mission Trips

Duplaga has not only seen “Ambitious Abbey” influence local children but also those living in different countries too, she said. She has gone to Haiti three times and Uganda once, and in both places, she was able to take her books.

During the summer, a couple she had met on a trip to Israel reached out to Duplaga — they had a ministry in Uganda and told her they wanted to send her to Uganda to see their ministry, she said. They also purchased some of her books because they had just built a library.

Duplaga knew God had been telling her the book series would be a global brand, so she took this sign as another confirmation, she said. Her books are in a library in Haiti as well for the kids she worked with there.

“I really do believe every kid can benefit from kingdom principles, virtues, values, morals and character — even if they're another culture learning about an American-type culture which is written in my stories,” Duplaga said.

Children in these countries want to learn the English language, Duplaga said.

“I really do believe if God wants to pass along certain lessons that He will use these children's stories to inspire kids in different areas,” Duplaga said.

Next Steps: Education, Animation and Brand Expansion

There are plans to create an educational curriculum based on the series, Duplaga said. Specialists in early childhood education, including her sister as well as a cousin who writes curriculum, are helping her with the process.

One of the educational qualities of the series helping children to better retain information is rhyming, which adds an extra layer of complexity and learning, Duplaga said.

Her choice to write in rhyme links to her love of singing and childhood memories of enjoying authors like Dr. Seuss, Duplaga said.

“I feel like it's so fun to pick up a book that just flows and rhymes, and it feels like you're singing it and you can memorize it,” Duplaga said. “It also teaches kids vocabulary.”

Duplaga does not shy away from using big words in her work, and she said her friends jokingly call her a “thesaurus.” For example, in “Ambitious Abbey Gets Organized,” she uses the word “transpired” and rhymes it with “inspired.”

“With the context of the story and the pictures, the kids can figure out what the word means, so they're learning that word,” Duplaga said.

Duplaga said she uses different words all the time and always had a love for English and writing, but she just never knew God gave her a gift of writing books until she was called to do the series.

Aside from teaching kids vocabulary and life skills, Duplaga said she also aims to teach them colors — each book in the series has a different colored spine that corresponds with the placement of the color in the rainbow. Because it will be a 10 book series, Duplaga will use white to represent the clouds at the end of the rainbow and gold to compensate for the extra books.

Another reason she chose to make a rainbow with the book spines is because of the Biblical significance of the rainbow relating to God’s promises in Genesis 9:13-16, Duplaga said.

Duplaga is excited to see how the series grows, she said. She has created puzzles based on the series and hopes to make school supplies, party supplies, clothing or other related items.

There are also plans to make it into an app, which will include games and an animated television series with the help of her primary illustrator, Andrew Thomas, who is an animator and has a degree in graphic design, Duplaga said.

Duplaga Gives All Glory to God

“I never imagined I would be doing this, so what I really want people to take away is: Listen to the Lord, no matter what that looks like, no matter how complicated the journey because there’s always such a reward in doing what God asked you to do and things you would never imagine that you would even experience or receive as far as blessings,” Duplaga said.

God wants to use His people to accomplish things in the earth for His plans and purposes, Duplaga said.

“The feeling you have in your heart of truly making an impact for His glory is better than any impact you could make for your own glory,” Duplaga said. “So, if God is nudging your heart to do something or to take a leap of faith, follow it because He will not let you down, He will not drop you. Get out of your own head — get out of the way.”

Duplaga’s “Ambitious Abbey” book series is available for purchase on her website, Amazon, Walmart or Barnes and Noble.

Sara graduated from the Providence College Honors Program in 2023 with a degree in Creative Writing and Art History. She was a peer minister through the college’s campus ministry leadership team.