“The Ark” and “Rowan Farm” Review

the ark by margot benary isbert cover

Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees

There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.

Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!

The Ark

In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.

The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.

Rowan Farm

A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.

Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.

There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.

In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.

Clean and Charming

The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.

Buy both books through my Amazon Affiliate links: The Ark and Rowan Farm

“Blessed Carlo Acutis” Review

book cover blessed carlo acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven

Last fall, my family “discovered” Blessed Carlo Acutis through a Holy Heroes Glory Story CD. We learned about this amazing youth who managed to accomplish so much in just fifteen short years of life. My kids were enthralled not only by how young he was but how recently he had lived and how similar his life was to theirs. He died only a few years before they were born! He wore jeans! He used a computer!

A Saint for 21st Century Kids

My kids aren’t the only ones who love Blessed Carlo and feel an instant connection to his story. This young man is inspiring kids around the world as his story spreads. Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven is a brand-new book by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi. Drawing on Church documents and interviews, especially personal interviews with Carlo’s mother, Ferrisi retells Carlo’s life story. Kids (and adults!) can learn about his Eucharistic devotion, charity work, favorite pets, love for computer programming and film making, and much more!

But Ferrisi also includes an explanation of the official path to a declaration of sainthood. Kids will learn about the 3 stages on the way and what is required at each stage. They’ll be even more amazed that Carlo was declared a Blessed less than 15 years after his death!

There’s also plenty of color photos of Carlo, his family, and more for kids who love visuals.

Who Will Enjoy This Book?

Target age: middle grades through high school. But younger kids will enjoy hearing parts of the book read aloud, especially if they’re already familiar with Blessed Carlo’s life from Glory Stories. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly as an adult. I was touched and inspired by Blessed Carlo’s love for both God and neighbor. This young Blessed’s life truly exemplifies the two great commandments!

You can order your copy of Blessed Carlo Acutis from publisher Holy Heroes. Enter the discount cod CARLO15 to get 15% off your purchase to celebrate this new relase!

No affiliate link here, just a really awesome saint and story I wanted to share!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager” in Heaven in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!

“How the Angels Got Their Wings” Review

How the Angels Got Their Wings, cover

Gorgeous and Grace-Filled!

In his latest picture book, How the Angels Got Their Wings, Anthony DeStefano continues his pattern of producing beautiful books for children. In this new book, he explains in his trademark gently rhythmic verse who the angels are, why some angels are bad, who the archangels are and what they’re known for, and where we might find them.

An Exciting Drama

Angels are a fun topic for kids. These amazing rational beings with real superpowers fascinate my kids. My five year old loved the vivid illustrations in How the Angels Got Their Wings, especially the cosmic battle between the good and bad angels. She also loved the concept of looking for angels in daily life. Whether they’re in disguise or invisible, we’re surrounded by these amazing beings all the time and definitely don’t think about it enough! This picture book will help kids of all ages to connect more deeply with these heavenly friends.

Find Out More

Note that particularly young or very sensitive children may be upset by the images of the devil, so be sure and check out the full length picture preview of the book on Sophia Institute Press before buying if you have very young ones.

You can buy this gorgeous and grace-filled picture book through my Amazon affiliate link, How the Angels Got Their Wings, or from publisher Sophia Institute Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “How The Angels Got Their Wings” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Love beautiful Catholic picture books?

Check out my reviews of some of the other great offerings in recent years from Sophia Institute Press!

photo of teepee under a starry sky

“Station Eleven” Review

Station Eleven

An immediate national bestseller, Station Eleven is a contemporary dystopia by Emily St. John Mandel. After a flu pandemic destroys 99% of the world’s population, most of the remnant live in small survival-focused communities. But not all. The Traveling Symphony travels around the Midwestern United States performing classical music and Shakespeare plays. Because “Survival is insufficient.” The real magic of this book is in its presentation of the truth that art and beauty and culture are worth preserving even in the darkest of times.

Survival is insufficient.

Station Eleven

Art and Beauty Matter

What made this book memorable was the fundamental truth that even in extreme circumstances, beauty and truth shine through. The post-pandemic world depicted in Station Eleven is bleak, ruthless, and uncivilized. In stark contrast to the overall darkness of a collapsed world, the truth and beauty in Shakespeare and classical symphonies shine forth and touch the hearts of everyone who hears the Traveling Symphony’s performances.

Likewise, the beauty of friendships and family are a powerful theme in Station Eleven. This is where we’ll find happiness in a dystopian world, the novel teaches, whether it’s siblings saving each other during the early days of the pandemic, loyal friends risking their lives for each other, or simply a father baking bread for his children.

But Goodness Should Also Matter

And here’s where the book loses its moral compass. Starting with a glitteringly beautiful premise about beauty and truth redeeming a dark world, Station Eleven loses its way in the moral morass of twenty-first century subjectivism and social agendas.

The biggest problem is the depiction of religion as a path to insanity and evil. The “Prophet” is a mentally unbalanced polygamist and killer who hunts the Traveling Symphony. This Bible-quoting villain is Station Eleven‘s one and only religious character or reference point.

On the other hand, all the “good” characters live according to their own moral systems- which are predictably modern and anti-traditional morality. The members of the Traveling Symphony engage in various extra-marital relationships. There’s a homosexual character who keeps bemoaning his dead boyfriend, which is so unnecessary to the plot and character the “normalizing” agenda just screams through.

Suicide is held up as an acceptable alternative to living in a difficult world. A disabled character kills himself to make it easier for his brother to survive.

Should I Read It?

Maybe. For all it’s problems, Station Eleven is a well-plotted and thought-provoking story. There’s a lot of shaky morality, but I will give the author credit for refraining from including any sex scenes whatsoever. That’s actually pretty unusual for a contemporary book in this genre.

If you’re wondering about violence: yes, there’s some violence. Members of the Traveling Symphony defend themselves against the Prophet’s men on a few occasions. Somewhat graphic descriptions of wounds, but on the positive side a main character talks about the gravity of killing, how it haunts you forever, how awful if it has to be done even in self-defense.

If you are an adult who enjoy dystopias and you don’t mind sifting through the author’s anti-religious views, you may find Station Eleven worth the time and even moving. But I definitely do not recommend this book for teens or those who are just looking for a “good, clean book.”

If you’re going for it, here’s a link to buy it through my affiliate link: Station Eleven

For other book ideas, check out My Book Lists for kids and teens or my For Parents section for adult ideas.

Review of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit 451 cover

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.

Fahrenheit 451 is timely

For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!

Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.

Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.

The Power of History and Education

Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.

But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.

A Warning and a Hope

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.

Older Teens Should Read It

Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.

The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.

Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)

But Also Adults

But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.

You can buy a copy through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

To find more books your high schoolers may enjoy, check out my book lists, especially Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 (Age 14 and up) and Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 2 (Age 16 and up).

Review of “Armor of God” Series

armor of God book 1 cover

Chivalry and Catholic Virtues meet in Theresa Linden’s Armor of God series, specially written for First Communicants.

Have or know a child who’s preparing for or just made their First Holy Communion? This series is just for them! Theresa Linden explores the six parts of the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6 against a interest-catching backdrop of knights and quests. These books are sure to captivate 6-8 year old Catholic children and help them internalize and desire the virtues!

In the first book, Belt of Truth, George, a young page, has a lying problem.

George wants more than anything to be a knight. When he learns that Truthfulness is a necessary virtue, he’s dismayed. How can he stop lying when it seems like the best way to solve his problems and keep out of trouble? Watch George grow and practice virtue throughout this first book so that when he really gets in trouble, he is able to stand strong and tell the truth. He earns his first piece of armor: the Belt of Truth.

As the series continues, George learns about the other parts of a knight’s armor and other virtues including Righteousness, Peacefulness, and Faithfulness.

There’s also plenty of scuffles, sword fighting, horses, dragons, and more. Parents can feel good about giving this clean, virtue-driven series to their young kids to read. And kids can enjoy the fun of the chivalric era while imbibing some good morals.

Is the Armor of God series just for boys?

Nope! Girls will enjoy the fact that the knight school is for boys and girls! Boys train to be knights, and girls train to be dames. But they all get to practice all the fun parts of training. A girl is one of the three main characters that carry the series.

To buy the Armor of God Series, you can use my Amazon affiliate link to Belt of Truth or buy directly through the author’s website TheresaLinden.com!

BritNotes on Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

She’s brilliant, she’s insightful, she’s tricky. Agatha Christie is truly the Queen of Mystery.

Agatha Christie wrote over 80 mysteries and detective stories during her long and productive writing career. You can find a full list of her books in order of publication here if you’re curious about the scope of her work. I adore mysteries in general and Agatha Christie mysteries in particular, so over the years I’ve tried to read as much of her body of work as possible.

Why murder mysteries, you may ask?

What good can reading murder mysteries bring to our soul? Well, when we’re talking about detective stories from the Golden Age, we’re actually reading books written as a powerful response to and spiritual antidote for the post-World War era.

In a true Golden Age mystery, you have an environment such as a home or village that is shaken to the core by disorder: a murder. The mystery story is a quest for justice, an unravelling and labeling of the unimportant and important, a journey of restoration. Thus in the end a right order is restored to the environment and family: a mini-triumph of truth over evil and chaos. You can see how this formula appealed to a post-World War readership. And personally I still feel this quest for justice and order appeals to me deeply.

That’s why I advocate reading a good mystery- if you’re the right age and maturity.

For a really good discussion of why Golden Age mysteries are worth reading, listen to The Importance of Detective Fiction from The Literary Life Podcast.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries equally well crafted?

No. She grew as a writer, and certainly some of her mysteries have much more depth than others.

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries clean?

Well, you’ll never find graphic bedroom scenes. But the careful parent will want to be forewarned that plenty of these mysteries involve plot elements of casual affairs, out of wedlock pregnancies, and adultery. Sometimes, you’ll also find disturbing motivations, twisted narrators, and questionable ethics.

So let’s take a look at some individual Agatha Christie books and what you want to know about as a parent. Note that I will be adding to this list frequently as time allows and I get through my Christie notes.

IMPORTANT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

The Body in the Library

When Miss Marple’s friends the Bantrys find a young woman’s body in their library, she knows she must help clear her friends’ names. This unlikely spinster sleuth draws on her extensive knowledge of human nature to solve crimes.

Parents will want to know: fairly clean. A film producer is implied to be carrying on an affair and living with a girl, but then it turns out they are married after all. It is hinted that various men, some married, may have been romantically involved with the victim.

Affiliate link: The Body in the Library

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table is actually best enjoyed by Agatha Christie connoiseurs who have already read tons of her mysteries. You can tell she had fun with this sleugh reunion premise. Beloved Christie characters Hercules Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and Mrs. Oliver are all invited to an ill-fated dinner party where they are confronted with four sucessful murderers who were never convicted. Then the host is killed. Which guest is the killer?

Parents will want to know: this is a clean mystery with a focus on the pscyhology of crime.

Affiliate link: Cards on the Table


The Clocks

A secretary is summoned to a blind woman’s house to take dictation and finds a dead man. Who is he? And how did he get there? Poirot consults on the case at the request of a young spy. Murder with a hint of espioage in this alibi-dependent mystery.

Parents will want to know: One character is revealed to be of illegitimate parentage. Another mentions her husband was unfaithful and got another woman pregnant.

Amazon affiliate link: The Clocks

Crooked House

This is one of my favorite standalone Christie novels. A young man finds himself unwillingly investigating his fiancée’s grandfather’s murder. The whole family is suspect, but if you’re like me you’ll miss-guess the culprit. A masterpiece of distraction.

Parents want to know: disturbing solution to the mystery; a schoolgirl committed the murder. Situation is revealed and resolved when the girls’ aunt intentionally drives off a cliff killing both herself and the child. This is portrayed as more merciful than letting the child be accused of the murder.

Amazon affiliate link: Crooked House

Death on the Nile

This novel has jumped to very well-known due to the recent Kenneth Brannagh film. Death on the Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. This eccentric Belgian detective solves crimes by focusing on the little details.

In Death on the Nile, Poirot goes on a cruise down the River Nile with a diverse assortment of shipmates, including a newly married heiress. When the heiress is murdered, it’s up to Poirot to unmask the killer.

What parents should know: This is a particularly disturbing crime in its motivations. The husband and his lover between them accomplished the wife’s murder. The husband had only married the heiress so that when he killed her he could inherit her money.

Although there is no explicit sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include sexual content.

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile


Dumb Witness

Did elderly Emily Arundell’s beloved dog really leave a ball on the stairs and nearly kill her? Only he can tell Poirot and he’s only barking. When she dies two weeks later, Poirot investigates a small pool of possible suspects: only 5 people had an opportunity to kill her. And was it even murder?

Parents will want to know: a clean and enjoyable Poirot mystery.

Affiliate link: Dumb Witness

Elephants Remember

Hercules Poirot takes on a cold case that might be a double murder, murder/suicide, or even a double suicide of a husband and wife.

Parents want to know: there’s a suggestion that the husband or wife or both might have been having adulterous affairs. This is a suggested in passing a few times but not dwelt on too much.

Amazon affiliate link: Elephants Remember

Endless Night

This is probably the most disturbing Christie I’ve ever read, so be warned. It’s also a brilliant example of the “Unreliable Narrator.” It’s told in the first person by a bereaved husband who turns out to be both insane and the killer.

Parents: be warned that this is a psychological journey through the mind of a murderer who killed his wife in order to marry her best friend, his mistress.

Amazon affiliate link: Endless Night

Five Little Pigs

The daughter of a woman who murdered her husband 16 years before asks Hercules Poirot to take a second look at her parents’ case. He can’t resist the challenge.

Parents will want to know: this murder revolves a scandalous situation in which a married artist brings his mistress/model to live in the same house with his wife. It’s stated the artist has had a series of adulterous affairs previously. Positive: it turns out that the artist planned to repent and return to his wife so the mistress actually killed him.

Affiliate link: Five little pigs

The Moving Finger

Miss Marple is called in to help the police solve a Poison Pen case in the sleepy town of Lymestock. When letters turn into murder who is on the right trail to the real serial killer?

Parents will want to know: the poison pen letters accuse recipients of sexual misconduct such as affairs, illegitimate children, adultery, etc. A young man mourns a beautiful woman lacks “sex appeal.”

Affiliate link: The Moving Finger

The Murder at the Vicarage

When a corpse is discovered in the study of the good-hearted local vicar, no one can seriously suspect him, can they? Miss Marple swoops in to help the police find the real culprit in her typical unexpectedly brilliant manner.

Parents will want to know: quite a bit of innuendo in this mystery. Lots of gossip about a suspected affair between an archaeologist and his secretary. Later, an affair between a married woman and an artist is uncovered and presented somewhat sympathetically. The only explicit detail is when the adulterous couple is surprised embracing by the vicar.

Affiliate link: The Murder at the Vicarage

A Murder is Announced

A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder will occur that night. Intrigued, the guests come expecting a party game. Instead, they find themselves murder witnesses- and suspects. Fortunately Miss Marple, spinster-detective extraordinaire, is on hand to unravel the mystery.

Parents will want to know: that this is a fairly tame murder mystery involving two deaths, one by gunshot and one by strangling.

Amazon affiliate link: A Murder is Announced

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

In this early Hercules Poirot mystery, an unreliable narrator adds an extra twist to a cunningly devised plot. It is sometimes called Christie’s masterpiece. This is a great Agatha Christie intorudction for teens due to the lack of innuendo and adult situtations.

Parents will want to know: Poirot suggests suicide to the murderer to save his sister from public disgrace.

Buy it through my amazon affiliate link: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

In this iconic Agatha Christie mystery, Poirot and his sidekick Hastings investigate a family murder. With accusations being thrown around and everyone hiding part of the truth, how will the real murderer ever be discovered? Great twist in this classic.

Content: it is mentioned as part of an alibi that one suspect is having an adulterous affair.

Affiliate link: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Peril at End House

Hercules Poirot meets a young girl who describes three recent brushes with death. Knowing her life is in danger, Poirot rushes against time to prevent a murder. Or so he thinks.

Parents will want to know: drug use plays a major role in this novel, but drugs are clearly a bad thing that lead to misery. Very subtle implications of casual affairs between unmarried people.

Amazon affiliate link: Peril at End House

A Pocketful of Rye

When a rich businessman is poisoned, no one in his unhappy family seems very upset. Miss Marple sifts through a cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters to find the killer.

Parents will want to know: the wife of the deceased was engaged in an adulterous affair, though this is a minor plot point with no details given.

Affiliate link: A Pocketful of Rye

Postern of Fate

One of the Tommy & Tuppence series. The “young adventurers” of The Secret Adversary return in their 70s for a slow-paced espionage meets mystery type story. Not Christie’s best work, this rambling mystery probably wouldn’t interest anyone except diehard Tommy & Tuppence fans.

Parents will want to know: no content.

Amazon affiliate link: Postern of Fate

The Secret Adversary

Here’s a fun and light espionage style mystery! Two young and penniless friends agree to form the Young Adventurers company and do anything to earn money. Quickly recruited by a mysterious employer, they find themselves deep in the world of spies. This one is not as well written as other Christies, but teens usually enjoy the touch of romance and young hero and heroine in this novel.

Parents want to know about: mild suspense and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Adversary

Sparkling Cyanide

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton is on the hunt for his wife Rosemary’s murderer. He recreates the circle of guests and dinner she died at…. and then dies himself. It’s up to Colonel Race to figure out what really happened to Rosemary and George.

Parents will want to know: there are implied adulterous affairs between some of the party guests. A secretary secretly tries to ruin her employer’s marriage.

Amazon affiliate link: Sparkling Cyanide

They Do It With Mirrors

Miss Marple visits an old friend who runs a reform school for troubled youth and immediately feels a sense of foreboding. She isn’t surprised when three murders soon follow.

Parents will want to know: two young men pursue a young married woman and try to convince her to leave her husband. A young man kisses a married woman by force. An older woman shares her ex-husband left her for a notorious “dancer.”

Affiliate link: They Do It With Mirrors

For ideas of great books, check out My Book Lists!

Review of “The Melendy Quartet”

Recently, I’ve been sharing one of my childhood favorites with my 7 and 9 year olds at read-aloud time. I love everything I’ve ever read by Elizabeth Enright, but The Melendy Quartet holds a special place in my heart. In a truly unique way, these books capture the magic and wonder of a childhood lived with reasonable freedom and endless imagination.

Meet the Melendy Quartet

In The Satudays, you meet the four Melendy children: Mona, who can’t wait to grow up; Rush, who plays the piano remarkably well; dreamy and creative Randy; and young Oliver, full of curiosity and determination. You see the streets of mid-nineteenth century New York City through their eyes as they venture forth singly and together in a series of magnificent adventures. You’ll love how these children have the capacity to listen and learn from the adults they meet, whether it’s an old French aristocrat or a Bronx hairdresser with a big personality.

But it’s in The Four Story Mistake that the Melendy adventures really come to life with the family’s move to an eccentrically constructed old house in the country. In this book and its sequel And Then There Five, the Melendy kids enjoy the freedom of country life and make new friends young and old. Building their own swimming pool, trying to surprise the adults by doing all the canning alone, helping an orphan, and building tree houses are just a smattering of their excitements.

Spiderweb for Two is my absolute favorite and, sadly, the end of the series. With the older Melendy kids away at boarding school, Randy and Oliver look forward to a dismal year alone. But then a mysterious blue letter comes with a riddle that starts them on a rollicking book-long treasure hunt from clue to clue and adventure to adventure.

Why We Love Them

My kids immediately fell in love with these books and the characters. Elizabeth Enright creates real kids, kids you could see meeting at your local park, in the four Melendys. They’re quirky and creative and fun.

The Melendy kids show us that having a curious mind and an imagination can make everyday life intriguing whether you live in the city or country. They teach today’s kids that you don’t need video games or cell phones to have heaps of fun. Adventure isn’t in a screen; it’s outside your doorstep.

These books also celebrate sibling relationships without glossing over the inevitable squabbles that come with living in close proximity. Despite their occasional quarrels, the Meledy kids find genuine joy in being together and go out of their way, as in Spiderweb for Two, to show each other they care.

They’re beautifully clean and content-free. The only violence is that in And Then There Were Five, the kids befriend Mark Herron, a boy who lives with a mean relative. Said mean relative dies in a fire eventually; no graphic description.

I recommend them as a read aloud for 7-9 year old or for independent reading at 8-12 years old.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means that if you buy through my product link I receive a small fee at no additional cost to you.

If you’re looking for more great books for Middle Grade Readers, check out my lists: 60 Classic Books For Middle Grade Boys and 50 Classic Books that Middle Grade Girls Love!

white and brown animals near fence

Homesteading Picture Books

In 2019 our family made the big decision to leave military life and settle down to live in our homestate and start a small homesteading style farm. The last year and a half have been a whirlwind of planting, building, and learning. Many sheep, goats, ducks, dogs, and cats later, we’re thriving and so is the farm! Part of the joy of farm life for me has been discovering new (mostly old actually) homesteading picture books that capture the joy of farm life. Here are some of the homesteading picture books that we’ve grown to love this last year!

Homeplace is a wonderful exploration of a 6 generation farmstead. Each spread describes and pictures how the farm changed as each generation added on to the tiny log cabin and expanded farming operations.

Ox-Cart Man features pictures by the marvelous Barbara Cooney. This story follows a homestead family through the year as they grow and prepare products for the yearly market visit.

Yonder is a moving multi-generational story about a family who begins a homestead on a mountain. They plant a single tree in their orchard to begin, and add another for each birth, death, and important family event. Watch their orchard grow with the family as the circle of life continues.

In Apple Tree Christmas, a family lives above the farm animals in the barn. Poor but happy, the children take delight in the ancient apple tree- until one day a storm blows it down. Can their parents save Christmas?

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm was the book that made me want a homestead complete with all the animals when I was about 5 years old. Alice and Martin Provensen charmingly describe their array of animal friends with all their unique personalities and quirks.

Also check out The Year At Maple Hill Farm which takes you through each month of the year on the farm and the work that happens as the seasons change.

Head across the Pacific Ocean to a New Zealand farm with Days on the Farm. Author Kim Lewis lovingly paints and narrates simple stories about farm animals and children.

Have a child who doesn’t have the attention span for Little House on the Prairie yet? Check out the Little House Picture Books like Sugar Snow and Winter on the Farm that tell some of the best loved stories from the Little House series with lots of illustrations.

You may also enjoy my list The Best Farm Animal Picture Books!

wood landscape water summer

BritNotes on Jane Austen

Catholic Book Review of Jane Austen

You can’t get much more classic and classier than Jane Austen! But busy moms ask: when should my kids read Austen? And is she really squeaky clean? Here’s a short and sweet skim through Jane Austen’s six finished novels in order of publication.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is the story of the two Dashwood sisters, one emotional and extroverted, the other sensible and introverted. Their loves and disappointments are recounted against the backdrop of their family’s failing fortune and fall in the eyes of the world. Will they find true love and financial security? Will they learn to balance their different gifts?

Content: Marianne Dashwood loves a no-good philanderer who it is revealed has previously seduced, impregnated, and abandoned at least one other girl. Of course this is all recounted very properly with no unnecessary details.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

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Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s best-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece of subtle comedy, character development, social commentary, and beyond all that an amazingly enjoyable story. The five Bennet sisters face a bleak future until two rich men join their neighborhood. Will their family’s lack of propriety ruin the two oldest daughters’ chance at happiness? Can Lizzie and Darcy overcome their pride and prejudice?

This is a wonderful book with so many Catholic themes about virtue and happiness! Check out a podcast I did with Elevate Ordinary about this fantastic book: Elevate Ordinary: Pride and Prejudice from a Catholic Perspective

Content: sixteen year old Lydia Bennet runs away with the villain Wickham. The implication is that they enter a sexual relationship but no details, as is Austen’s norm in this situation. Eventually Wickham is prevailed upon to rectify the situation and marry Lydia.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

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Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park is often rated least popular among Jane Austen’s works. Fanny Price, a poor dependent in her rich cousins’ home, quietly watches as the cousin she loves is tempted to turn aside from his calling to the clergy by a sophisticated city girl. Fanny is an introverted, quiet girl: not at all the typical heroine type. On the one hand, introverts everywhere rejoice. On the other hand, this makes for a slower book lacking in the conversational repartee which makes Pride and Prejudice and other Austen novels so memorable. There’s a fantastic talk that really opens up this book available for free on The Literary Life Podcast page. It helped me see that Fanny’s quiet conviction and patience show that she is representing the virtue of Temperance in this book.

Content: Fanny’s cousins insist on staging a scandalous play about infidelity and an illegitimate child. This is, as always, subtle. The point is that the play is scandalous so Fanny refuses to participate.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

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Emma

Emma is young, rich, beautiful, and very clever- at least she considers herself so. She manages her father, her neighbors, and her friends’ lives with perfect happiness and confidence. Until her best laid plans to matchmake go comically and tragically awry.

In many ways Emma is a coming of age story. It’s also a story about friendship: true and false, deep and superficial, lasting and ephemeral. I find it one of Austen’s best crafted stories and a great reflection piece for high school aged girls.

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

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Persuasion

Persuasion is one of Austen’s two posthumously published novels. Years ago, gentle Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to the man she loved due to his lack of fortune. When they meet again, will they find true love? Can they forgive each other?

A novel about second chances, forgiveness, and seeing past lies. Austen often structures her novels on the characters’ increasing abilities to see reality truly. Seeing clearly leads to happiness in life. Willful blindness leads to unhappiness and misfortune.

Content: an implied affair.

Recommended reading level: high school and older.

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Northanger Abbey

The other posthumously published Austen novel, Northanger Abbey is actually one of Austen’s earliest book in order written. This Gothic satire is funny and fairly fast moving. Young and naïve Catherine Moreland visits “the city” for the first time and finds true and false friends surrounding her. She learns to trust her own values and good sense and stand firm for her convictions in this coming of age style novel.

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

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