BritNotes on Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, 1902-1968, was a famous American writer and Nobel Prize winner for his work in literature.

Today I’ll fill you in as concisely as possible on what a parent wants to know about some of his more popular novels.

Of Mice and Men

Two men, drifting cowboys, one of them mentally handicapped. Friends with a dream. It sounds sort of sweet, but this is a brutal book to read. When the mentally handicapped giant can’t control his strength and keeps killing animals, then people, what should his friend do?

Steinbeck raises some good questions about racism, mental illness, culpability, and justice. But he also creates a scenario where euthanasia seems like the best option. Of course as Catholics, we believe that euthanasia is never the right answer to dealing with mental illness or any other human failing. But in Of Mice and Men it’s hard to come up with a different solution for the situation Steinbeck creates.

This is difficult moral ground for high schoolers to think through. So if your high schooler is assigned Of Mice and Men, be prepared to discuss euthanasia- and why it’s never the right solution. Also be advised that Of Mice and Men is heavy on the language with almost daily instances of swearing and cursing. There’s also a sexually promiscuous female character who is married but trying to seduce the single cowboys. No sex scenes or graphic violence.

The Pearl

The Pearl is the Steinbeck gem I think should be assigned in high school. This is an equally thought-provoking story of similar short length as Of Mice and Men. But without the language and super hopeless theme. In The Pearl, a poor but happy couple finds a rare pearl and vistas of wealth and social ascension rise before their naïve eyes. But what will they have to sacrifice as they pursue a better life for their son? Themes about greed, poverty, peace, happiness, and human nature predominate.

Unlike other Steinbeck books, there is no sexual content or language. There is some violence though: domestic, shootings, and the death of an infant.

East of Eden

My favorite Steinbeck, but not an easy book on multiple levels. East of Eden is very long: a saga of several generations. Steinbeck called East of Eden “THE book” and his best work. Allegorical at many places, East of Eden explores Biblical themes and tropes against the breathtaking beauty and daunting hardship of life in the Salinas Valley of California. With characters as unforgettable as a Dickens cast and themes that keep you up thinking at night, East of Eden is one of those books you should read in your lifetime if you possibly can.

But not at 12. Or 14. Or 16.

East of Eden has some monsters, as Steinbeck labels them. One is Cathy, a prostitute who takes pleasure in shocking others with her coarseness and committing the most offensive acts possible. Steinbeck intends to shock the reader with her evil so there’s some dwelling on the details of prostitution. Other plot points include adultery and fornication. For most teens from fairly sheltered backgrounds, East of Eden‘s sexual content would probably shock so much it would overshadow the great themes this book really explores.

In re other parental concerns, there’s some language, some violence, but nothing too graphic. There’s quite a lot of questioning of God: his existence, his goodness, his love. There’s also an overall disparaging of organized religion as a path to heaven or true happiness.

But to end on a positive note here: a big theme in East of Eden is facing reality. Two sets of brothers a generation apart each are faced with the reality of sin and darkness in human hearts. Do they pretend, avoid, shun, accept, participate? This is a novel about blindness and sight, the existence of free will, and the power of our choices.

Thou Mayest Choose

Review of “Brave Books”

The Island of Free Ice Cream - Book 3 - Jack Posobiec

Discover Freedom Island, where “The Brave” citizens fight against the villains who strive to take away their freedoms and corrupt their culture.

This new series presents issues like Communism, Critical Race Theory, the Sanctity of Life, and 2nd Amendment Rights in a way that 4-10 year olds can understand. Each book contains an animal story in the time-honored tradition of Aesop.

An animal on Freedom Island confronts a tricky situation in each book. For example, in “Elephants are Not Birds” Kevin the elephant loves to sing. A “friend” suggests that this means he is actually a bird. But will trying to be a bird make Kevin happy and fulfilled and free?

In “The Island of Free Ice Cream,” the animals of Freedom Island discover that when something is presented as “free” they need to be skeptical. In “Little Lives Matter” Mother Bear refuses to give up on her disabled bear cub Mobi. And when she is old he won’t give up on her either. In “Paws off My Cannon,” the animals keep losing their cupcakes to the aggressive hyenas and can’t agree on whether the cannons or the hyenas are the problem until they try an experiment.

A story, games, missions, and more!

Each book contains a story, family or classroom game ideas, missions, discussion points for further clarification, and more! There’s even a giant map of the island so you can really immerse your kids in the “Brave” universe. These books would be great to use as a framework for a weekly or monthly class. I think they’re best for 6-10 year olds although a mature 4-5 year old would also understand most of the stories.

So far, there are 7 books in the The Brave series with many more planned. This is an inspiring effort by a collaboration of established writers and media figures who believe strongly in core American values and freedoms. There is no specific political agenda being pushed here per se. Rather, the focus is on individual issues such as sanctity of life, cancel culture, truth, gender identity, and so forth.

The author and publisher clearly put a lot of thought and work into creating a quality teaching product with Brave Books. I think you’ll be impressed!

You can order Brave Books as a monthly subscription or as single books through the publisher: Brave Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Saga One from Brave Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

You may also be interested in some of my other Book Lists and Reviews such as:

Review of “Discover the Brothers”

Introduce your children to a plethora of religious orders with Jake Thibault’s unique new books: Discover the Brothers and It’s Fun to be a Nun.

Do you know how many religious orders there are? Actually, I don’t either! But I learned about many I have never heard of in these colorful and engaging new books. On each page, there’s a detailed drawing of a Religious Brother (or Sister in the companion book) carrying out the particular charism of his order. Some brothers are serving the poor, others teaching, others praying, singing, even cooking! Each page also has the charism or motto of the order written out for you.

In the tradition of religious brothers having a special devotion to Our Lady, each page also contains a Marian image. Play I-Spy with a younger kid, or have an older kid try to remember all the different titles of Our Lady as you page through Discover the Brothers.

Also check out the sister book (haha, get it, Sister book?) about nuns: It’s Fun to be a Nun. You’ll learn about many orders of Sisters and their missions and charisms.

Carthusian? Dominican? Trappist? Franciscan?

As someone who never learned to identify religious orders by their habits, I’m hoping these books will help my kids and I become more knowledgeable about the differences between orders. I’m envisioning this turning into a Catholic card game: name the religious habit and charism!

(Note that both books focus primarily on traditional orders with religious habits but there is one to two orders featured, out of 30 plus in each book, that do not have a habit.)

I really like the idea of giving my kids more exposure to religious orders. These books seem like a great place to start! They reminded me of what a wealth of different orders are out there- one to fit any person drawn to a religious vocation.

You can buy both books through my affiliate links: Discover the Brothers and It’s Fun to be a Nun.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Discover the Brothers’ and “It’s Fun to be a Nun” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Find more of my favorite Catholic picture books on my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners .

three beige gift boxes

Book Lovers’ Christmas Gift Guide 2021

Give someone you love the gift of getting lost in a good story this Christmas!

What’s better than a book for Christmas? It doesn’t take up much space, is easy to mail, and gives the gift of an experience without leaving the comfort of your home! Find picture books, chapter books, picks for teens, and even the adult who won’t read on your list here this year!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy through my link I recieve a small fee at no additional cost to you.

Beautiful picture books to treasure

Swedish author Elsa Beskow’s beautifully illustrated picture books are favorites at our house. In Peter’s Old House, a community comes together to help renovate an old neighbor’s house.

Or if you’re looking for a classic fairy tale gift, Beskow’s rendition of Thumbelina may be the perfect fit.

Classic Picture Books that no one knows about

Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka are three sisters who always dress the same. In Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Bake a Cake, they learn how to make the perfect cake for their mothers’ birthday. This vintage series of charming stories about three sisters is over 100 years old, but back in print in collectible hardcover editions at a reasonable price! Only $10 a book!

Have little boys? No worries, there’s a brother series about three little boys named Snipp, Snapp, Snurr that is equally charming! (Note that these are only available in paperback that I could find).

For the Little Girl in Your Life

Have a 3-6 year old girl in your life? She’s sure to love The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. These simple and sweet stories about a little girl’s small everyday village adventures will charm you. Plenty of illustrations and short chapters help hold interest making this a great first chapter book.

For the small boy with the heart for big adventure

Tall tales are always a hit with the 4-6 year old boy crowd. Try Steven Kellog’s renditions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Pecos Bill with their detailed illustrations.

Or for a really unique and neat gift, give this little-known classic story from Virginia Lee Burton: Calico the Wonder Horse: Christmas Gift Edition. Calico is a smart ranch horse who saves the day when Stewy Stinker and his Bad Men come to town to try to steal Christmas.

For the elementary schoolers in your life

This interactive edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is amazingly detailed! Tons of illustrations and even movable elements. Watch the Cheshire Cat appear and disappear, help Alice get bigger and smaller, and more. Hardcover quality edition at a very good price!

Or for the adventurous child, you can’t go wrong with this beautiful hardcover illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Again, quality illustrations, paper quality, and binding make this a great gift edition of a beloved classic.

For your godchild, niece or nephew, or child who loves audiobooks

My kids will listen to Glory Stories on repeat if I let them! These full cast productions bring the saint to life in a vivid and memorable way. There’s a nice variety of Saint Stories to choose from, ancient to modern. My kids’ current favorite is the newly released story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, available from publisher Holy Heroes.

The book that every teen should read

Even middle schoolers can understand the message in Animal Farm, George Orwell’s classic dystopian allegory about the dangers of Communism.

For the teen who enjoys historical fiction

I really enjoyed Sword and Serpent, the first in a Catholic historical fiction series which imagines the lives of St. George, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, St. Blaise, and other early saints.

For the teen who loves fantasy and fairy tales

Shannon Hale’s rendition of the fairy tale The Goose Girl is masterfully done! A little romance, a lot of adventure, and great themes about friendship and courage make this a great teen novel.

For the teen who’s ready for a classic mystery

I’ve gotten the question of which Agatha Christie to start a teen on a few times. You can’t go wrong with The Secret Adversary, Crooked House, or Murder on the Orient Express. (Note that some Agatha Christie books mentions adulterous relationships as a plot point but there is never any sexual content.)

For that teen or adult who won’t read a book

What about Andy Serkis’s amazing new performance of the Lord of the Rings? An unabridged reading by the man who voiced Gollum- what could be better!? Audio Books still count as books!

For the adult story lover on your list

Reading Piranesi was a highlight in my 2021 Literary Adventures. This thought-provoking story inspired by The Magician’s Nephew brings together mystery, art, philosophy, and suspense into a unique and gripping plot. My full Review of “Piranesi” is up on the blog.

For the adult who loves the classics and beautiful editions

Check out the beautiful editions at The Folio Society! Most book lovers would drool over these gorgeous illustrated copies of favorites like Around the World in 80 Days, Austen’s books, the Bronte classics, or The Wind in the Willows.

Image of Around the World in Eighty Days book

For that person who likes looooonnnngggg (and amazing!) books

I’ve read pretty much everything Michael O’Brien has written. The Island of the World is my favorite. So if you need a tome for someone like me who thinks 1000+ pages is a positive, then you’ve found the perfect reflection on art, love, and the power of suffering.

For the Mystery Lover

For those who love classic mysteries but have read all the greats like Sayers and Christie and Allingham, Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a contemporary mystery in the classic tradition. Full review up on the blog here.

For the adult who loves historical fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow is one of those books that draws you right back into a particular time period and way of life. Aristocrat Alexi is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in the attic of the Grand Hotel in Moscow as the Communists take over Russia. How does the last Gentleman remaining in Moscow maintain sanity, find community, and even thrive over the next decades?

For more ideas, check out my 2020 Christmas book guide!

Looking for books ABOUT Christmas?

Check out my Christmas book round up: Good Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

GIVEAWAY and Review of “Champions of the Rosary”

Have you ever heard of the only approved American apparition of Our Lady?

I’d read about Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe with my kids. All the famous apparitions. But when it came to our own country, I knew just enough to know that there had been an American apparition in Wisconsin, but that was it. If your family is like mine, you’ll be as excited as we were to learn more about the apparitions and miracles right here in our own country! Let me tell you about Champions of the Rosary, a new historical fiction novel from author Laurie Schmitt.

champions of the rosary book cover

In 1859, Our Lady appeared to a young girl named Adele Brise in Wisconsin.

Our Lady asked Adele to pray and teach the children in rural Wisconsin their Catechism. A convent and Chapel were eventually built to fulfil the request of Our Lady of Good Help, as this apparition was dubbed. And did she ever help the people of Wisconsin! This book recounts the miracles that occurred at the apparition site in future years such as miraculous healings.

The most stunning miracle occurred during the terrible Peshtigo Fire of 1871. As thousands of acres around burned, then-Sister Adele led the local people in a rosary procession around the grounds of the convent. Miraculously, the convent acreage was completely spared: a verdant green island in the midst of hundreds of miles of devastation on all sides.

This is a beautiful story about a family struggling through tough times and turning to Our Lady for hope and healing.

It’s also an intense story since the backdrop is the Peshtigo Fire which ravaged the countryside (I recommend for ages 10 and up). Tweens and teens will be caught up in the drama of a natural disaster unfolding while also learning about this beautiful apparition with a message of hope for our country.

If you’re as excited to read this book as my family was, I have good news: I’m giving away FREE copies of Champions of the Rosary and Laurie Schmitt’s other historical fiction novel, Lepanto’s Lady!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lepanto’s Lady is another great historical fiction novel with a Marian theme. In Lepanto’s Lady, watch the events of the momentous Battle of Lepanto unfold through the eyes of young Rosa. Learn about the origins of the October 8th feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

You can buy Champions of the Rosary through my amazon affiliate link: Champions of the Rosary

Our Lady of Good Help, Pray for Us! Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for Us!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Champions of the Rosary” and “Lepanto’s Lady” from the St. Paul Center in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help | The National ...
Image of Our Lady of Good Help- isn’t she beautiful?

Liturgical Living Posters

I usually only write about books, but I was so excited about these gorgeous Christmas Liturgical Calendars I wanted to share!

Have you heard that stained glass windows used to be the Catechism and Bible of the uneducated?

Of course most adults can read now, but what about small children? I think these poster sized calendars serve the same purpose as stained glass windows in a Medieval Cathedral. The youngest child can pour over the details in these Christmas Liturgical Calendars and learn about the saints and symbols of the liturgical seasons!

These calendars are nice and large: 18 x 24. You can easily see all the details! There’s so much detail here that there’s a handy guide included to help you understand the symbolism hidden in these calendars.

For adults, you have all the details of the Liturgical calendar available at a glance!

What the liturgical color of the day is, what the class of feast is, where ember days are, octaves, rogation days; there’s so much packed into this calendar! Take your liturgical living up a notch when you hang these calendars on your wall!

This set of calendars takes you from Advent through the Christmas Season to February 12th.

You can purchase these calendars through Sophia Institute Press: Christmas Liturgical Calendars

christmas liturgical living calendar

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the “Christmas Liturgical Calendars” from Sophia Institue Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more Christmas resources? Check out my Good Christmas Books for Catholic Kids Book List!

selective focus photography of gray donkey eating grass

Review of “Joseph’s Donkey”

In the spirit of the Year of St. Joseph, here’s a new Christmas story for your family about Joseph’s Donkey.

joseph's donkey cover image

From the author and illustrator that brought us the beautiful and bestselling Our Lady’s Wardrobe and Our Lady’s Picture Book, here’s a brand new book to put under your Christmas tree this year!

Joseph’s Donkey is a gorgeously illustrated story about the gentle earthly father of Jesus and his equally quiet and noble helper. See the events of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, the Christ Child’s childhood, Egypt and back again, and the quiet years at Nazareth through the eyes of this gentle donkey.

Little children will love the detailed depictions of the Holy Family’s life and affection for one another.

The gentle, rhythmic poem captures the spirit of these years of peace and harmony. Sometimes we forget the decades of silence before Jesus began his public ministry!

Animal loving children will also love the pictures of a young Jesus with his donkey.

Death and New Life

The story concludes with the death of the donkey at an advanced age. I’ve noticed a theme in Anthony DeStefano’s books: he wants children to experience death as an opening of the eyes to a richer, brighter new life. Like the Seed in The Seed Who was Afraid to Be Planted, Joseph’s donkey falls asleep to wake to a more beautiful world than he had ever imagined.

If you love St. Joseph, you’ll enjoy this lovely and luminous book!

Find it for sale through my Amazon affiliate link: Joseph’s Donkey

Or find it on my Christmas Picture Book list at Bookshop!

To see more of my favorite Christmas picture books, check out my complete list:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Joseph’s Donkey” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

“The Night the Saints Saved Christmas” Review

the night the saints saved christmas cover image

What if Saint Nicholas got sick on Christmas Eve?

In this fanciful new Christmas story, author Gracie Jagla comes up with an imaginative solution. All the saints of heaven work together to save Christmas by delivering gifts to their homelands! From Saint Joan of Arc on her horse to Saint John Paul II on his skis, each saint finds a way to bring gifts to their country’s children.

The Nights the Saints Saved Christmas is a beautifully illustrated celebration of the Communion of Saints and the true meaning of Christmas.

Your little ones will learn a bit about some great Saints in this gently rhyming story. Short text and detailed illustrations combine to make this the perfect Christmas story for the 2-6 year old crowd!

Parents will appreciate the focus on giving versus receiving. There’s also a tie in to the true meaning of Christmas being adoring the Christ Child versus the presents.

Who is Santa Claus?

I loved how The Night the Saints Saved Christmas affirms Sant Claus’s sainthood! As you may know, “Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch for St. Nicholas. This book acknowledges the popular western custom of attributing Christmas gifts to St. Nicholas without undermining the true meaning of Christmas.

Whether you “do” Santa Claus or not, your kids will enjoy this whimsical story about the saints working together to help the children of earth. See if you can spot some of your favorite saints; my kids were excited to see Pier Giorgio Frassati and the Fatima children!

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link: The Night the Saints Saved Christmas

Or buy it through my Bookshop page: Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

To see more of my favorite Christmas books, check out my list of Favorite Christmas Picture Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Night the Saints Saved Christmas” from Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

“The Beggar and the Bluebird” Review

Releasing This Week!

I was super excited to get an advance look at Anthony DeStefano’s newest book, The Beggar and the Bluebird. This new book for Christmas 2021 is a truly beautiful story about sacrifice, charity, and the true meaning of gift giving.

Did you know that bluebirds traditionally have symbolized beauty, joy, and messages from God? In this story, a bluebird is about to fly south for the winter when a ragged beggar asks for help delivering a gift. The bluebird finds itself helping the poorest of the poor, the sick, and the hopeless.

The little bluebird literally gives until it hurts! It ends up dying in the snow from cold and weariness. Then, a miracle occurs, and the bluebird finds itself the one receiving a wonderful gift.

A Christmas Fairy Tale

The Beggar and the Bluebird is a fairy tale which pushes the reader to look beneath the surface, to see beyond the beggar’s rags. It’s a story about the true meaning of Christmas: to give not to get. Hopefully, children will be moved to think about Christmas giving in a more other-focused way.

Trust God

It’s also a story about trusting in God’s plans. The bluebird judges that it needs to fly south right away for its own protection. But when it opens itself up to helping others, allows a heavenly plan to unfold, it finds more happiness than it imagined possible. In many ways, this story’s themes reminded me of another DeStefano story I loved, The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted.

Another book for the Christmas Collection

This latest Anthony DeStefano book definitely deserves a place in your Christmas book collection!

You can buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Beggar and Bluebird

Or you can buy it through my BookShop page: Christmas Book List

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Christmas Light” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Catholic Board Books for Catholic Toddlers

There’s been an explosion of board books written just for Catholic toddlers in the last few years. From mini Catechisms to Mass books, there’s a board book for that now!

This is so exciting to see! How wonderful to be able to share the treasures of our faith with the littlest Catholics in an age appropriate (and rip-proof) way!

If you’re a godmother looking for a Baptismal gift, or a godparent looking for a Christmas present, or a mom looking for a stocking stuffer, these books will be perfect!

Bible Stories & Verses

Wow! These gorgeous board books from St. Augustine Academy Press are eye-catchers. The lithographs are based on Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s 1860 Bible in Pictures. The idea here is that even if the child is too young to listen to the full text of a Bible story, they can learn the gist of it from these detailed pictures.

Buy it directly from the publisher: St. Augustine Academy Press

Read your child some of the simplest and most comforting Scripture verses in The Word of the Lord. These are great first memory verses!

Buy it through my Amazon Affiliate link: The Word of the Lord: A Child’s First Scripture Verses

Or buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: The Word of the Lord

Catholic Catechism Board Books

Katie Warner brings you the shortest and sweetest Catechism of all. Simple one line affirmations encourage the littlest toddlers to learn basic truths such as “God made you and rejoices in you.”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Kiddie Cat: A Child’s First Catechism Lesson

Or buy it through Good New Book Shop: Kiddie Cat

Looking for a little more depth but still a simple presentation? Check out the Teeny Tiny Theology series. These four books provide an introduction to Christology (the study of Jesus Christ and his role in salvation) the Trinity and more!

Buy them through my Amazon affiliate links: Teeny Tiny Theology: Christology

Teeny Tiny Theology: The Trinity

Teeny Tiny Theology: Salvation History

Teeny Tiny Theology: Sacred Scripture

Cute illustrations in these Little Books for Catholic Kids. Books on the Corporal Works of Mercy, Spiritual Works of Mercy, Prayer, Angels, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Aquinas Kids Little Books for Catholic Kids Box Set

Christmas Board Books

I’ve always loved reading this rhythmic, soothing board book to my babies at Christmas time. Captures the spirit of preparing and waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Christmas very well.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Who is Coming to Our House?

Christmas in the Manger is a simple explanation of Christmas symbols for the littlest children.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Christmas in the Manger

The Story of Christmas is a slightly longer board book that explains the true meaning of Christmas in a way that helps toddlers understand it’s not just all about the presents!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Story of Christmas

Saints Board Books

This isn’t just a book of saint stories. It’s a book of advice from the saints! Read your child words of wisdom from some of the greatest saints such as St. Padre Pio’s “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry!”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints

Or buy it through Good News Book Shop: Cloud of Witnesses

In this board book, Catholic toddlers become familiar with the apparitions of Fatima and Guadalupe, Our Lord’s appearances to St. Faustina, and the Annunciation.

Buy it through the publisher: Holy Heroes

The Mass

Sturdy and durable, this board book is the best Mass book for toddlers I’ve found. Written by a Catholic Mom, it includes I spy, match the vestments, lift the flaps at the end of each part of the Liturgy of the Word, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: My First Interactive Mass Book

Looking for something a little more advanced? Check out my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners