In this sweeping journey story that spans nearly a century, Craig Russell writes an intriguing new riff on the classic cautionary tales about making a deal with the devil.
Rembrandt was only a kid in 1927 when his two aunts made a deal with the devil. In order to redeem their souls, Rembrandt and his father set out on a quest to find a champion. The catch: they can’t stay in any one place for more than 12 days.
Black Bottle Man spans three quarters of a century. Rembrandt journeys across much of America searching for redemption for his family- and himself.
What’s to like in Black Bottle Man
Russell’s style is very readable and flows well. I liked his choice to focus on the consequences of curses and devil-dealing across generations. Fundamentally, what he’s saying about deals with the devil applies to all sin. Our sins impact others outside ourselves, far more than we can imagine. Only after death will we know how our sins affected our children, relatives, even grandchildren and beyond.
Black Bottle Man also explores self-sacrifice and what true freedom and happiness looks like. Rembrandt and his father choose to seek redemption for their family. They live in a certain peace and interior freedom, knowing they are trying to seek heaven even if the journey seems long and even hopeless. In contrast, Rembrandt’s aunts are tortured by their sin: unhappy even though they got the children they desperately wanted.
C. S. Lewis tells us in The Screwtape Letters that one of the devils’ tricks is to make us believe they don’t actually exist or take an active part in earthly drama. I like that Black Bottle Man portrays the devil as a real being you can fight. The message that demons are real and bent on dragging us to Hell is really brought home in this book.
Here’s the picky mom in me’s thoughts on why I wouldn’t hand my younger teen this book. The plot includes a situation where Rembrandt’s two married aunts both sleep with one of the aunt’s intoxicated husband to get pregnant. There is not a graphic description, but Rembrandt remembers seeing them from a distance.
Second, parts of the book are a coming of age story as Rembrandt remembers being a drifting teenager. His recalling of his first crush is too overtly focused on physical desire in my opinion. Lots of descriptions of him obsessing over trying not to stare at a girl’s breasts, which is nice on the one hand, but on the other did we really need that detail repeatedly?
Any other content? No language and no drug or alcohol glorification. There’s a decent amount of offscreen violence, but nothing too graphically described and no glorification of violence.
Black Bottle Man is filled with solid themes about self-sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, and what love really looks like. But there’s also a bit of sexual content that might make you want to think twice before offering it to your younger teens. This is one of those case by case judgment calls depending on you and your child’s sensitivity levels.
Looking for other ideas for your teens? Check out My Book Lists for lots of ideas!
Have a voracious reader in the high school years? Need a summer reading challenge for your 14-16 year old high schooler?
Challenge them with this FREE printable list! Lots of classic great books, some Catholic classics, and a few modern for fun titles! Over 85 titles on this printable book list for 14 year old and older teens. The list has checkboxes and space for date completed.
The books on this list will also be enjoyed by teens older than 16 and even adults!
These 20 Classic Chapter books set in Europe capture the culture and flavor of life in a variety of European countries. Since most of us can’t travel the world right now in person, entering these countries through our imagination may be the next best option. Here’s my picks for a literary tour of Europe this summer!
Visit the Emerald Isle and experience everyday life in The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda Van Stockum.
In the last month, we’ve added three dwarf goats, two giant dogs, and nine loud ducklings to our farm. Farm animals are so funny and heartwarming; it’s little wonder that so many children’s classics feature these furry and feathery friends. I thought in honor of all our new animal friends, I’d share some of our favorite farm animal picture books.
These picture books about farm animals combine beautiful illustrations with stories old and new. Enjoy fables and folk tales, funny stories, and classics favorites all about our favorite fuzzy and feathery farm friends.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that I receive a small payment for purchases through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.
Love Garth Williams classic Little House on the Prairie illustrations? Check out Baby Farm Animals for his adorable versions of baby farm animals.
In Charlie the Ranch Dog, meet lovable farm dog Charlie, his friend Susie, the troublesome cattle, and the sneaky chipmunk. There are several equally fun sequels about ranch life, like Charlie and the New Baby in which Charlie and his family rescue a lost calf and reunite it with its mother.
Text from Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrations by award-winning Jerry Pinkney: what could be better? A Home in the Barn follows the coming of winter and all the animals large and small who find shelter in a barn.
Kids love the simple rhythmic text of the Little Blue Truck books. In the original, Little Blue picks up all the farm animals and even does a grumpy passerby a good turn. A celebration of teamwork.
Five o’clock Charlie may be old, but he doesn’t want to just sit in a field all day. He feels useless until one day he finds a new job and new friends at a nearby inn.
Based on the author’s life on an English sheep farm, Days on the Farm is a collection of short stories that capture sheep farm life. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations we just love.
In Tractor Mac Arrives at the Farm, you’ll meet Tractor Mac, Sibley the Horse, Pete and Paul the Pigs, and all the animals on Stony Meadow Farm. One of our favorite farm series, we particularly enjoy the detailed diagrams of farm equipment at beginning and end of each book.
Farm Morning is a simple but lovely story about a father and daughter’s morning routine on their farm.
My favorite version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott version. The troll in this one is a wee bit scary for very littles though!
If you love Margaret Wise Brown’s well-known Good Night Moon, you’ll also love Big Red Barn, her gentle farm animal story.
You probably know I adore James Herriot’s stories for adults. James Herriot’s Treasury for Children takes some of his gentlest tales and pairs them with lovely illustrations to keep children’s interest. These stories are longer, so best for a child with a good attention span.
Sensitive child warning: in the Christmas story, the mama cat does die in the beginning of the story, though there is a happy ending.
Although only time will tell what books of the last century last through the centuries as true classics, I’ll venture to predict Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree will be on that short list. Hungarian born Kate Seredy was a brilliant children’s author who lived from 1899-1975. She wrote prolifically and was also a talented artist who illustrated her own books. My favorite books by Seredy are the The Good Master and its sequel. Both books were Newberry Honor books and much lauded. Best of all, these books tell an engaging story: a story about two cousins and a farm and a war and a lost way of life. They’re a window that gives a glimpse into the early twentieth century your family will never forget.
These books are living history at its best!
The Good Master tells a simple story of Hungarian farm life in the early twentieth century. Jansci’s father is a successful farmer known far and wide as “The Good Master” for his gentle but firm way with animals and children. When Jansci’s difficult city cousin Kate comes to visit, the peaceful farm life is thoroughly shaken up. But in the end, the magic of animals, country life, and never ending family love cure Kate of her willfulness. Mostly. This first book showcases the simple beauty of country life and the Hungarian traditions throughout the year.
In sharp contrast, The Singing Tree begins with the advent of The Great War: World War I. Jansci and Kate are barely in their teens, but suddenly having to take charge of the farm as Jansci’s father must leave for war. In this sequel, Seredy draws a poignant picture of the challenges the impoverished Hungarian farmers and peasants faced, their confusion about the war, and how they survived by helping one another. This book, though sad, is even more beautiful than The Good Master. If you’re studying the early twentieth century or World War I, The Singing Tree is a must-read.
Anything parents should be aware of?
No violence, sexual content, language, and so on. These books are squeaky clean and beautifully written! There is some dramatic tension in the second book about whether Jansci’s father will come home. Other soldiers from their village die in the war. There are orphans and homeless who shelter on Jansci’s farm. Undeniably, the Singing Tree is a very sad book at times. But it’s also a story of strength and courage and heroic charity. I recommend reading these books in the middle grades, around age 10-12. But like true classics, they’re very enjoyable read aloud as a family also!
Lovers of vintage comic books will enjoy this recently published reprinting of a series of classic comic strips. These comic strips retell over 20 famous Bible stories. The book starts with Adam and Eve and continues through to the Ascension and Pentecost. With vivid full color pictures and all the action, I think Classic Bible Comics will appeal to most kids in the 6-8 year old range.
What we liked
My 8 and 6 year olds snapped this book right up and spent a couple hours pouring over the vivid pictures and simple text. They gave it a thumbs up as an exciting and engaging way to learn basic Bible stories such as Joseph, David & Goliath, and Jonah. Their only complaint was that this book was too short!
Comparing to other Picture Bibles
If you’ve seen my list Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic Kids, you know we enjoy exploring all the great religious-themed comic books out there. So to compare with some others I talk about on that list, Classic Bible Comics is easier to read than The Picture Bible or The Action Bible. It’s also much shorter: it hits the famous stories, but doesn’t attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of salvation history. Basically, this book is short and sweet, like your favorite comic strips from an old newspaper.
Living History Books blend fiction and historical events in a unique way that captures kids’ interest. The chapter books on this list are a great springboard for getting your kids interested in learning more about the American Revolutionary War and the great men who helped found our country!
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that I will receive a small fee if you buy through my link at no additional cost to you.
Ben and Me is a unique biography of Benjamin Franklin, cleverly written by his trusty sidekick Amos the Mouse. This book is hilarious, memorable, and easy to read. Perfect for 8-10 year olds.
Scheherazade the chesnut Mare used to belong to a cruel British officer. When she begins a new life with Paul Revere she ends up playing a pivotal role in helping the American patriots when Paul makes his famous ride to sound the alarm. After your children read Mr. Revere and I, your whole family can enjoy reading Longfellow’s fantastic poem Paul Revere’s Ride aloud.
On the other side of the Atlantic, George III of England seemingly inexplicable treatment of the American colonists gets a fresh look in Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? Newberry Winning author Jean Fritz draws on amusing anecdotes of King George’s childhood to help children understand this man who drove a country to revolt.
10 year old Ellen bravely takes her ailing grandfather’s place in a dangerous spy mission to help the American patriots in Toliver’s Secret. A thrilling story of a shy girl’s courage and patriotism.
The Childhood of Famous Americans series has over 50 volumes that teach history through engagingly writing about the childhood and young adulthood of famous Americans. For a Revolutionary War character study, I recommend their biographies of George Washington, Martha Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.
The Reb and the Redcoats follows the American Revolution from the perspective of a British family. When they are forced to house an American POW, it changes everyone’s perspective. A thought-provoking book that gives “both sides” of the story.
Guns for General Washington retells the story of a courageous 19 year old who transported 183 guns across a state to help General Washington win an important battle in Boston.
In True to the Old Flag, prolific historical fiction writer G. A. Henty focuses on a young British soldier’s experiences fighting in America and Canada during World War II. I found this book gave a fascinating and often unheard perspective, focusing on the Loyalist American arguments and the British cooperation with the Native Americans. 10+
Johnny Tremain is a young silversmith who tragically injures his hand, ending his budding career. But soon, he finds himself working for the Patriot newspapers and being drawn into the fight for independence. 10+
A centuries old feud and some friendly ghosts lead orphaned Peggy on a journey back in time to interact with her American Revolutionary War ancestors. A touch of mystery, a touch of Romance, and a lot of masterful historical fiction make The Sherwood Ring a favorite of mine. 12+
May is First Communion time for many families across the country! Looking for a gift for your First Communicant, or a First Communicant you know? Here are some of my favorite books to gift on this very special occasion!
Bibles & Catechism
The Action Bible is a sure-fire way to get an 8 year old obsessed with reading the Bible. My 8 year old knows the Old Testament prophets better than I do, really.
The Catechism of the Seven Sacraments, or “The Lego Catechism” as my kids call it, can’t help but be a hit with the 7-8 year old crowd. This fantastic resource ties together Biblical history, Catechism, and Legos together in a fun and memorable way.
Looking for a more traditionally illustrated, simpler Bible? The Illustrated Catholic Children’s Bible has your basic Bible stories told in a simple and easy to read format for your younger First Communicant.
I’m a huge fan of this book of Gospel Readings and Reflections for Children. I love that it combines Lectio Divina and Visio Divina into a simple and effective devotional kids can understand. Check out my full review here! ADD
The King of the Golden City is a lovely allegory by Mother Mary Loyola that helps children understand readying their hearts for Jesus. There are two editions: the original that appeals more to girls and a special edition for boys.
Made for Greatness is a one of a kind journal that encourages 8-12 year olds to develop a positive growth mindset. By reading about recent saints and using journaling prompts, kids will gain confidence and develop habits they can be proud of. Check out my full review here.
Like author Maura McKeegan, I discovered Biblical typology in college and was utterly fascinated. As a well-catechized, homeschooled cradle Catholic, I couldn’t believe I had never learned about all the amazing parallels between the Old and New Testament. Now, with the Old and New series of picture books, you can teach your 5-10 year olds about typology as they become familiar with Bible stories.
What is Biblical Typology?
Biblical typology is the study of seeing the prefiguring of people and events of the New Testament and covenant in the Old Testament and covenants. McKeegan quotes Augustine’s explanation:
In McKeegan’s Old and New Series, of which Saved by the Lamb is the fourth volume, you and your children can see how Old Testament figures like Jonah, Adam, and Moses are types of Christ.
Saved by the Lamb: how Moses foreshadows Jesus
In Saved by the Lamb, McKeegan traces Moses’ life and the events of Passover. On each page, you’ll read a paragraph about Moses, then a paragraph about Jesus. The parallel placement of the text with carefully selected similar meter and diction really brings home to children the parallels. You’ll be crying out in surprise with your kids as the amazing parallels unfold.
You’ll understand the Gospel of Matthew better: why Matthew, the learned Jew, was so excited about Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. You’ll learn how the centuries of Passover sacrifice was conditioning the Jews to understand Jesus as the Paschal lamb that must be slain to save the people. And so much more!
An Important Catechesis
These simple picture books really provide an amazing opportunity for early catechesis. I believe they’ll awaken an interest in Biblical typology and scriptural exegesis in many children. The target age is 5-10, and I found this spot on for my own children: it went over my 4 year olds head mostly, but my 6 and 8 year olds loved it and kept interrupting to restate the connections. You can buy these books through my Amazon affiliate link: Saved by the Lamb: Moses and Jesus
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Saved by the Lamb” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Check out my some of my other favorite books on My Book Lists page!