Review of “The Prisoner of Zenda”

Anthony Hope penned the The Prisoner of Zenda nearly 125 years ago. Hope’s book was so popular it sparked an entire genre known as “Ruritarian Romance,” which are adventure novels set in fictional countries in Eastern Europe. The Prisoner of Zenda was received with eclat by Hope’s generation, who were delighted with the adventure and romance, political intrigue and sword fights, humor and tragedy. I confess to thoroughly enjoying this fast-paced, clever adventure myself, with a few reservations. This is a story for adults or older, mature teens.

THE STORY

Rudolf Rassendyll, both the hero and the narrator, is a dashing young Englishman who decides on a whim to journey to Ruritania for the coronation of the new king, also named Rudolf. Without giving away too much of the plot, a scandal is Rassendyll’s family’s past resulted in his bearing a close resemblance to the king or Ruritania, a fortunate coincidence when King Rudolf’s treacherous half brother makes a play for the throne. Rudolf Rassendyll acts decisively and honorably to save the King’s throne and life, but at the cost of a broken heart.

HONOR OR LOVE

This is simply an adventure story at heart, but what I found fascinating were the themes about honor and love, which were handled so differently a century and a half ago. Anthony Hope creates a story where Rudolf chooses honor over romantic love and passion. One overwhelming message about love in our culture is, “If it feels good, do it.” Heaven forbid in the twenty first century that anyone deny the impulses of passion. The Prisoner of Zenda offers a strikingly different approach to a conflict between honor and the dictates of our heart. Throughout the book, Rudolf wrestles with his love for the Princess Flavia, but mostly restrains himself from acting on it. Even when, in the final chapters, Rudolf falters in his determination to act honorably and leave the Princess to marry the King as she should for the good of her country, Flavia stands firm. She delivers a heroic refusal to compromise honor for love.

“Is love the only thing? … If love were the only thing, I would follow you—in rags, if need be—to the world’s end; for you hold my heart in the hollow of your hand! But is love the only thing? … I know people write and talk as if it were. Perhaps, for some, Fate lets it be. Ah, if I were one of them! But if love had been the only thing, you would have let the King die in his cell. … Honour binds a woman too, Rudolf. My honour lies in being true to my country and my House. I don’t know why God has let me love you; but I know that I must stay.”

A LITTLE PHILOSOPHY 

Rudolf struggles throughout The Prisoner of Zenda with his desire for the Princess and temptations to allow the King to die so he could seize the throne and princess for his own. I appreciated his distinctions between thinking and doing. He recognizes the crucial moral distinction between feeling a temptation and acting on it. In fact, his approach to confronting temptation is very close to St. Alphonsus di Liguori’s: do not focus unduly on temptation, but rather be grateful for grace to resist it. Rudolf explains:

“A man cannot be held to write down in cold blood the wild and black thoughts that storm his brain when an uncontrolled passion has battered a breach for them. Yet, unless he sets up as a saint, he need not hate himself for them He is better employed, as it humbly seems to me, in giving thanks that power to resist was vouchsafed to him, than in fretting over wicked impulses which come unsought and extort an unwilling hospitality from the weakness of our nature.”

What an awesome little explanation of human nature, grace, and temptation to find in an adventure story!

THE NEGATIVE

Although I appreciated the overall refreshing themes about honor and chivalry in The Prisoner of Zenda, this book is not without flaw morally speaking. There is a decent amount of violence, some of it committed by the hero himself. One of the most disturbing moments of violence is when Rudolf stabs a sleeping guard to death, an action that does not seem necessary in the context of the story. However, at least Rudolf later feels compunction about this decision to cold bloodedly kill the guard: “Of all the deeds of my life, I love the least to think of this.” The other motif I did not appreciate was a slight tendency towards misogyny in the hero. He comments at one point that “Women are careless, forgetful creatures.” However, to balance that comment, as I noted above, Princess Flavia is ultimately portrayed as the most honorable and principled person in the book.

IN CONCLUSION

If you or your older teens enjoy a good adventure, I find The Prisoner of Zenda to be an overall worthwhile read which provides a thought-provoking snapshot of a very different moral culture. I suggest it only for older teens and adults due to some moral dilemmas involving the proper use of violence, and some mentions of illegitimate situations and rape (in a negative light). I personally much prefer reading physical copies of books, but if you don’t mind Ebooks, this book is available for download free of charge on Project Gutenberg.

Good ABC Books for Catholic Preschoolers

You may not be surprised that I’ve taken a book-based approach to teaching my preschoolers the ABC’s. This method is super simple: you just make sure to regularly read your toddler or preschooler several ABC books, pointing to the letters and making the sounds before reading the text on each page. My kids have learned letter sounds and recognition easily this way without any formal teaching needed. Here are some of our favorite alphabet books!

 

Alison’s Zinnia is one of my children’s favorite alphabet books, and mine too! Each page has a detailed illustration of a flower beginning with a particular letter. This is a wonderful way to learn flower and letter recognition at the same time. Also, I really appreciate that even the difficult letters like X have a flower beginning with that letter!

 

 


A Paddling of Ducks: Animals in Groups from A to Z is a really fun book which teaches collective nouns and the alphabet. The illustrations of each letter play on the literal meaning of the collective nouns, which I found hilarious!

 

 


Albert’s Alphabet is a wonderfully creative alphabet book by Leslie Tryon. There is almost no formal text, but my children and I always enjoy narrating our own story about Albert’s clever use of materials to build a super-sized alphabet on the playground.

 

 

 


Kipper’s A to Z: An Alphabet Adventure is both funny and educational. Even my 18 month old appreciates the gentle humor and lively illustrations from Mick Inkpen.

 

 

 

 


Little Bear’s Alphabet is written and illustrated by one of our favorite picture book authors, Jane Hissey. Children who already love Old Bear will enjoy this introduction to the alphabet which features Jane Hissey’s cast of stuffed animal friends.

 

 

 


We all enjoy the incredibly realistic illustrations in A to Z of Animals, a Wildlife Alphabet. This is one you have to buy used, but so worth it! It also includes a section at the end of the book with information about each animal featured.

 

 

 

 

The Construction Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta was a big hit with my oldest son at about age 3. He memorized most of the book in no time, and we both learned a lot of the appropriate technical names for large machines!

 

 


D is for Dump Truck: A Construction Alphabet is a story style alphabet book about a family building a tree house. It’s a nice little poetic story about teamwork.

 

 

 

A You’re Adorable is the perfect board book for introducing the alphabet to very young children. A simple little rhyme which reinforces how much we love our little ones!

 

 

 

K Is for Kiss Good Night is a sweet concept of using a calming bedtime routine to run through the alphabet. I like that this is a multi-racial book too featuring children of different nationalities.

 


On Market Street, written by Anita Lobel and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, is a simple story with highly detailed illustrations which my children will spend long periods of time examining.

 

 

 

 


Eating the Alphabet is great for introducing the letters and learning about lots of unusual fruits and vegetables.

 

 

 

 


I also want to mention Catholic Icing, a great Catholic preschool curriculum which combines teaching the ABC’s with religion and simple arts and crafts!

Good Catholic Books for Catholic Teens

My post Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergarteners  is one of the most searched and read on this site, so today I was inspired to write a similar post aimed at Catholic teens. If you are looking for confirmation gift ideas or just good books about the Catholic faith, inspiring saints, and captivating conversions to add to your library, here is the list for you.


Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints is a collection of short stories about young saints which will inspire teens to seek holiness with passion and purpose.

 

 

 

 


Notoriously mercurial teenagers will definitely benefit from The Emotions God Gave You: A Guide for Catholics to Healthy and Holy Living by Art Bennet, author of The Temperament God Gave You. This book will lead your teenager to begin to understand and control their emotions.

 

 

 

Boys will particularly enjoy A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of Saint Camillus de Lellis . Saint Camillus struggled greatly against a tendency towards the vices of gambling, drinking, and brawling. His conversion is an inspiring testimony to the power of God’s grace.

 

 

 


For older teens, Louis de Wohl’s biographies of saints are great inspirational reading. He does a fine job of portraying the saints as fallible human persons who achieved sainthood by responding to God’s call in their lives. A note of warning: Louis de Wohl’s books do contain occasional mild sexual content, so I recommend them for older teens only at parental discretion.

 

 


George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic is a fascinating tour of important historical Catholic sites, combining architecture, history, and faith into a seamless, captivating series of letters.

 

 

 

 


Jason and Crystalina Evert’s books Pure Manhood and Pure Womanhood are fantastic, short and sweet answers to questions teenagers have about dating and sex.

 

 

 

 


All Things Girl: Truth for Teens is a spectacular gift for a Catholic teenage girl! This book offers chapters on everything from modesty and fashion to social media and peer pressure. An awesome resource for Catholic moms as a discussion starter also.

 

 

 


Youcat by Cardinal Schonborn was designed with the input of high schoolers on the design team to create a visually appealing version of the Catechism to appeal to a teenage audience. If your teenager wants color images and is turned off by the weight of the full Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition, then this would make a great Confirmation gift.

 

 

 

I AM_ by Chris Stefanick is an awesome book to give a teenager or young adult. Stefanick leads the reader to recognize that they are beautiful, courageous, strong, fearless, precious, and lovable. This is a message teenagers desperately need to hear. Each word has a short anecdote and meditation or prayer. Chris Stefanick writes in a very simple, conversational tone that will easily appeal to teenagers, even those with a short attention span!

 

 


Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly explains how to break past our own procrastination and laziness and choose the happiness we all desire deep in our hearts.

 

 

 

 


For the more thoughtful teen looking to deepen their spirituality, 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Gaitley is a perfect at-home retreat.

 

 

 

For even more ideas of good books for Catholic teenagers, check out the section of Catholic literature on my list Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers.

Review of “My Family and Other Animals”

I picked up My Family and Other Animals  by Gerald Durrell on a whim, hoping for a mildly interesting Ebook to pass the time while waiting for my youngest to fall asleep one evening. By the end of the first page, I was intrigued. By the end of the first chapter, I was captivated. By the end of the book, my ribs were sore from laughing and I had stayed up too late finishing it. My Family and Other Animals is quite difficult to classify, being one part travel, one part autobiography, one part natural history, and one part comedy, with a thread of descriptive language running throughout that sometimes raises it nearly to poetry. All in all, a real delight of a novel to read for any adult or older teenager.

Unconventional Childhood
My Family and Other Animals begins with the Durrell family deciding on a whim to escape a miserable British summer and take a vacation to the Greek island of Corfu. The Durrells enjoy Corfu so much they end up spending five years on the island, which suits young Gerry perfectly. His book is a memoir of a childhood full of sunlight and wonder, memorable animals, colorful Greek natives, and, of course, his ever-entertaining family. There is his oldest brother Larry, who “was designed by Providence to go through life like a small, blond firework, exploding ideas in other people’s minds, and then curling up with catlike unctuousness and refusing to take any blame for the consequences.” Next comes Leslie, whose sole interests in life were shooting and firearms. Gerry’s older sister is Margo, who fights acne and flirts with peasants. Last but not least, there is Mother, who herds her eccentric children around the globe lovingly, encouraging and placating in a most satisfactorily motherly way.

A Unique Education
Durrell offers an interesting critique of traditional education, though subtly rather than overtly. He describes how he was enthralled with anything related to the natural sciences, but otherwise uninterested in traditional education. If he had been confined to a traditional school setting in England, he very well may never have become the great naturalist he grew up to be. His mother’s decision to move the family to Corfu during some of his most formative years provided an atypical educational experience that allowed young Gerry to develop his passion for flora and fauna into a career as a naturalist. In his book, Durrell explains how all attempts at teaching him French or geography or arithmetic were quite useless until a creative tutor found ways to relate them to biology and zoology. He learned best by exploring the island, gathering specimens, and reading about them in his considerable collection of nature books. His mother wisely allowed him to spend most of his time exploring his passion for all things animal, and Gerry thrived on Corfu in a way that would not have been possible in a typical school. In many ways, I found My Family and Other Animals a strong case for homeschooling.

Delightful Diction
Durrell the grown up uses the most delightful diction in describing his childhood as Gerry. I will pay him the tremendous compliment of comparing his word choice to P. G. Wodehouse, the master of the English language. In fact, I recommend reading with a nature encyclopedia and a dictionary at hand if you wish to receive the full benefit of Durrell’s descriptions. Unless of course you know offhand exactly what diaphanous means or what a boungainvillaea looks like. The impressive diction used in My Family and Other Animals is one of the reasons I recommend this book for readers sixteen and older.

Local Color and Hilarity
Throughout his book Durrell scatters colorful characterizations, and sometimes caricatures, of local inhabitants, flora, and fauna of Corfu. He has a keen eye for foibles and humor both human and animal. You will laugh till you cry at his description of the misadventures of his mother’s sea-slug of a dog Dodo with the leg that pops out of joint.  His account of a battle between a mantid and a gecko is an epic in miniature. And the time his older brother opened a matchbox containing a snugly ensconced mother scorpion at the dining room table leads to a situational comedy of legendary proportions. These and other adventures of the Durrell family created a genuine problem as I read because it made me laugh so hard it woke my nursing baby repeatedly. Taken as a whole,My Family and Other Animals is a happy mix of P. G. Wodehouse’s humorous writing and James Herriot’s appreciation for All Creatures Great and Small which I wholeheartedly recommend as a worthwhile book.

Concerning Dragons

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Dragons have historically been associated with evil by western tradition, but in recent years a spat of books have appeared featuring friendly dragons. Is the traditional view of dragons superstitious? Or is there a certain inherent evil in dragons? Should our children be reading books that reverse the evil dragon stereotype?

DRAGONS IN THE BIBLE

There are a couple mentions of dragons in the Bible. In the original Hebrew, the author of Genesis uses the word worm to refer to Satan in the Garden. In Hebrew, worm would mean serpent or dragon. The more well known Biblical mention of a dragon is in Revelation 12, where a dragon waits to devour the child the woman is about to bring forth. Thus there are at least two place sin the Bible where the dragon is equated with the evil one.

DRAGONS IN WESTERN LEGEND

Throughout western mythology and legend, dragons are closely associated with serpents (harping back to the Hebrew Biblical word), evil, and Satan. Catalan Drac and German Lindworm are examples of snakelike dragons. The Hungarian Zomo, was a giant winged snake. In English legend, dragons are often referred to as worms. In Albanian legend, Bolla is a serpentine-like dragon that wakes once a year on St George’s feast day to devour the first human it sees. In nearly every European country, one finds legends of this sort linking serpentine dragons to evil.

PRO-DRAGON BOOKS?

A number of popular books in recent years have portrayed a very different dragon than the evil serpent of western tradition. For example, Tomie De Paola, whose work I usually like, has a picture book, The Knight and the Dragon, in which a cute chubby dragon and young knight are at first mutually terrified of each other and end by becoming good friends.  Similarly, a well loved early chapter book called My Father’s Dragon is the engaging story of Elmer Elevator, a young boy who rescues a friendly baby dragon. The Eragon series, which stars a young man who hatches a friendly dragon, has gained popularity in recent years in Catholic circles. These books and others in a similar vein, while engaging stories, are in complete contradiction to centuries of oral and written wisdom concerning dragons.

DRAGONS AND DEMYTHOLOGIZING

Michael OBrien’s A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind is, in my opinion, the definitive guide to understanding the intricacies of dragons, magic, fairy tales, paganism, and a plethora of other tricky topics in contemporary children’s literature. In regards to dragons, O’Brien explains that western Christian legends and myths about dragons “refer to a being who actually exists and who becomes very much more dangerous to us the less we believe he exists.” He describes recent pro-dragon literature as “demythologizing,” and explains that the devil actually would be thrilled to see us forget the traditional narrative of the good knight fighting for his King

“The dragon has a vested interest in having us dismiss the account of the battle as make-believe. It is not to his benefit that we, imitating our Lord the King, should take up arms against him. He thinks it better that we do not consider him dangerous. Of course, the well-nourished imagination knows that dragons are not frightening because of fangs, scales, and smoke pouring from nostrils. The imagination fed on truth knows that the serpent is a symbol of hatred and deceit, of evil knowledge and power without conscience.”   ~ Michael O’Brien

Imagination Forming Fantasy

If your children love fantasy, the good news is there are plenty of books that depict dragons in an appropriately fearsome manner, respecting their traditional symbolism as evil. I recently read The Squire and the Scroll to my 5 year old. This awesome picture book reinforces purity of heart and has a satisfyingly evil dragon for the young squire to slay. Margaret Hodges’  retelling of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon is another awesome picture book. For older readers, Tolkien’s The Hobbit has a wonderful depiction of Smaug as the evil dragon. Fairy tales and Arthurian legends are also rife with traditional themes about dragons.

A CHESTERTONIAN CONCLUSION

When it comes to dragons, I find myself thinking of G. K. Chesterton’s wisdom about fairy tales. Since tiny children instinctively imagine dragons and monsters as a visual symbol of the evil one, the best course of action as a parent is to give them hope for victory over that evil through stories which end with the dragon defeated.

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”  ~ G. K. Chesterton

I think we’ll be reading Saint George and the Dragon for bedtime tonight!

Review of “Between the Forest and the Hills”


I was only thirteen or fourteen when I was first enchanted by Between the Forest and the Hills. Even as a young teenager I recognized this book was something out of the ordinary and it became an instant lifelong favorite. Author Ann Lawrence labels it a Historical Fantasy, but I find it defies categorization, effortlessly surpassing typical genres. You could describe it as a lighthearted frolic through lush forests with two children, or as a humorous yet profound philosophical dialogue between a Christian and a pagan, or as a thoughtful exploration of different ethnic groups learning to coexist. And there is also a fascinating theme running throughout about the existence of miracles. And a generous dosage of humor strewn throughout for good measure.

HISTORY AND PLOT

Lawrence set Between the Forest and the Hills in a fascinating place and era historically. Isculum is a tiny garrison town in western Briton, situated between the forest and the hills. Nearly forgotten by a declining Roman Empire, Isculum has become self sufficient. Between the Forest and the Hills begins as a leisurely stroll through this lazy little village where the town leaders bicker about theology, write down the history of their town, and wonder about the future of their isolated outpost. Young Falx, ward of the Prefect, stirs up the story and town by rescuing a little Saxon Princess, revealing the proximity of barbarians. The children’s meeting becomes the catalyst for war, alliance, friendship, and miracles.

CULTURAL CROSSROADS

Lawrence vividly portrays the uneasy melding of Roman, British, and Saxon cultures brought about through necessity. In the beginning of the story, Roman and Briton are already living peacefully together after generations of intermarriage. But the Roman-British town is fearful of the proximity of the barbarian Saxons. At first the only option seems to be war and the annihilation of one party. But through a miracle involving two talking ravens and the still unwritten Hallelujah Chorus, both sides reconsider and wonder if cooperation might be possible. The Saxon Torcula decides, “Even to be neutral, we must try to be friends.” The wise Roman prefect Frontalis agrees to an alliance, observing, “So the Saxons may outnumber the Britons in the end- so what? It’s the land that makes the people. In another hundred- two hundred years, they will be us. All we have to do is hold things together until the process is complete.” Lawrence certainly introduces serious and profound questions about immigration for a young adult book. Agree or disagree with her conclusions as you will, Between the Forest and the Hills is a great springboard for an immigration discussion.

CONVERSATION, FRIENDSHIP, AND CONVERSION

The books is punctuated by a series of exchanges about Christianity between Frontalis and Malleus, the Christian bishop. Lawrence paints Frontalis as a most erudite and noble minded pagan whose eventual conversion is the result of decades of friendship and discussion with the good bishop. These conversations offer great reflections points for the reader. For example, Malleus talks about the limited understanding of human beings at one point, “Uncertsinity is the perpetual lot of mortal creatures… We’ve no choice but to trust what we don’t understand, accept what we can’t believe, and walk where there’s no path that we can see.”

MIRACLES

Between the Forest and the Hills has an interesting thread of theme about miracles running throughout the book. The still somewhat superstitious British converts are inclined to see a miracle from the saintly bishop at every turn, to his comic distress. This raises an interesting question for Malleus: if seeing a natural event as a miracle brings people to God, is there anything wrong with seeing God’s hand in that event and crediting it to him? Malleus struggles with this question, feeling hopelessness and discouragement. But in his lowest moment of doubting God’s intervention, a true miracle occurs with his staff bursting forth into flower as a sign of hope.

CLEAN AND CREATIVE
I would wholeheartedly recommend Between the Forest and the Hills for advanced twelve year old readers to high schoolers. The publisher Bethlehem books recommends 14 and up, possibly because of the detail about the bishop, Malleus, having been married and having a son (this is in fact in keeping with the historical setting since priestly celibacy was not yet a rule). I loved Between the Forest and the Hills as a young teen and loved it more as an adult, recognizing more clearly how rare it is to find such a clean, creative book for teenagers. My hope is your teenagers love it as much as I did!

Review of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Many book lovers have a soft spot for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time based on fond childhood memories. Though perhaps not on par with The Chronicles of Narnia in terms of popularity, A Wrinkle in Time has quite a fan following. I am in the unusual position of a bibliophile who did not read A Wrinkle in Time as a child. I believe my late, adult introduction to A Wrinkle in Time gives me a certain advantage in writing an unprejudiced review since my clarity of analysis is not obscured by any warm emotional attachment rooted in a childhood identification with Meg.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
My first impression upon finishing A Wrinkle in Time was a certain vague disappointment. After all the hype I had heard about Christian themes, gripping plot, and memorable characters, I was hoping for so much more than I found. Upon reflection, I decided my dissatisfaction might in a small measure be rooted in the fact that I was not the twelve year old audience at which the book is aimed. But more fundamentally, I think I was disappointed because I grew up reading and re-reading Fantasy and Sci Fi such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ The Space Trilogy , and Children of the Last Days. And L’Engle’s skill as a writer, depth of thought as a philosopher, and moral imagination is not remotely on par with the likes of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Michael O’Brien.

BATTLE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL
I do truly appreciate that L’Engle tries to clearly define the conflict as a cosmic battle between good and evil. In this aspect, I believe A Wrinkle in Time was intended to be reminiscent of Lewis and Tolkien. The evil fog and IT are supposed to be evil, while the Mrs W’s and humans from earth are combating in the name of good and love. However, though L’Engle had good intentions, I believe her portrayal of good is flawed in several essential areas.

JESUS: ANOTHER GOOD MAN
Madeleine L’Engle was an Episcopalian, and her book reflects a watered down Protestant version of Christianity. Biblical references are strewn generously throughout A Wrinkle in Time, although Meg and the other characters are not overtly identified as Christian. There is on the one hand an acceptance that certain Christian themes, such as free will, and Bible passages contain wisdom and even a certain inherent beauty, truth, and power. Yet on the other hand Jesus is placed on par with other artists and spiritual leaders like Michelangelo and Gandhi. If you say Jesus is just another good teacher, you discredit the Bible message, reducing it to just another good book. In this sense, A Wrinkle in Time is a decidedly poor witness to Christianity.

Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Witchcraft
I don’t by any stretch accuse L’Engle of nefarious intentions, but another reason I would hesitate to hand my tween a copy of this book is her comparatively lighthearted take on the occult. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which are described as guardian angels and messengers from God. Yet these angels  “play” at being witches. Calvin calls the witch symbolism of broomsticks, cauldron, haunted house, old crones, “their game.” Since Catholic popes, priests, and theologians have repeatedly cautioned again any “games” dealing with occult objects, I find the concept of playing at witchery disturbing. I immediately thought of the passage in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in which Screwtape says one of the best ways to allow power to a devil is to deny its existence.

WHOSE LOVE?
One final detail in the plot that I found particularly troublesome is that when the climax comes, Meg finds she must rely on herself. Her love is most powerful.  A common theme in Catholic literature is a person realizing that they are nothing before God, but with God they are everything. Perhaps one could try to make a case that Meg’s love for her brother must come from God, and so bring God into the victory. But your average ten or twelve year old is not going to leap to this interpretation, which is a stretch even for me. L’Engle is pretty clear that Meg herself sees it coming down to just her love alone.

LEWIS DID IT BETTER
I kept having this reaction while reading A Wrinkle In Time: “Lewis already used this idea, and he did a better job.” To be clear, I am not accusing L’Engle of plagiarizing. But for a devotee of C. S. Lewis, details such as the disembodied brain controlling people and scientists being taken to another planet by celestial guardian angel figures will inevitably lead to comparisons. And in my opinion, A Wrinkle In Time just can’t begin to compete with The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Add to that the fact that I find L’Engle to lack an authentically Christian voice, and my advice is to skip A Wrinkle In Time, or at least be sure to have a discussion with your children about it before handing it over. And also make sure they read some C. S. Lewis.

 

Review of “If You Give a Moose a Muffin”

I remember enjoying listening to my parents reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when I was young. So I bought several of the “If you give…” books by Laura Numeroff sight unseen. I was quite disappointed when I began reading them to my own kids.

I will admit that my little ones were instantly captivated by these books. Something about the short phrases on each page, the simple, sequential story, or the animals’ antics amuses children. However, I reluctantly had to conclude most of this series needed to disappear in the night from our bookshelf.

The original If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is tolerable in my opinion (though not handsome enough to be a favorite for me). The illustrations are not as realistic and beautiful as I might ask in an ideal world, but do have a certain cuteness. The story line is actually helpful in explaining sequences and causes to very little children. And I appreciate how the little boy tries so hard to clean up after the mouse throughout the story. Of course, the deeper theme about desire following desire in a cyclical fashion is way over the intended audience’s head.

I could nitpick about Numeroff’s later books. For example, the illustrations move from cute and calm to sometimes frantic, as in If You Give a Cat a Cupcake Also, does it bother anyone else how though cookies and milk is an American combination, apple juice and donuts just don’t really go together?

But the book that I really take exception to is If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

Look at this moose.

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Observe the sweater. (Or is it a bolero?) Take note of the daisy.

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Notice the stance. This is a moose who carries a clutch purse. This moose is … a girl, right?

But no. “If you give a moose a muffin, HE’LL want some jam to go with it.” (My italics)

So, we have a male moose wearing a girly sweater with a daisy in the pocket, standing like a girl, carrying a clutch. Am I the only one who prefers my milk and cookies, or muffins and jam, unaccompanied by a homosexual or transgender normalizing agenda?

This book did not find a home on our bookshelf.

Good Books for Catholic Husbands and Fathers

In our house, I am undeniably the bibliophile.  My very busy, military officer husband used to claim he didn’t like reading, but over time has altered his position to: “I only like (and have time for) reading practical, inspiring books.”  Once he actually finds a book he likes though, he thinks everyone should read it!  This list includes some of his favorites, which you will probably hear recommended over dinner if you ever come to our house.

Peter Kreeft’s clear, logical style resonates with men, so it’s no surprise my husband’s first book recommendation is usually Making Choices: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Moral Decisions. Actually, both of us loved this book, because it offers exactly what the title states: practical wisdom about everyday moral decisions. Kreeft provides a general framework and then addresses some specific common moral conundrums.

Kreeft has written a plethora of excellent books such as , but another title of particular interest for Catholic fathers is Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. In this book, Kreeft shares his astute thoughts on what is most important to discuss and pass on to our children.

Another favorite author of both my husband and father is Matthew Kelly, a devout Catholic and also fantastic self-help type motivational speaker. His Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction was extremely helpful for my husband in mapping out his path forward for his career and our family.

Another Matthew Kelly book which is perfect for a couple to read together is The Seven Levels of Intimacy. This book is sure to help you improve communication with your spouse and build a more meaningful relationship. Matthew Kelly’s simple, direct style makes this a quick and easy read.

Randy Hain’s Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life is similar to Matthew Kelly’s Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction. It’s another excellent book about trying to create harmony in all areas of your life.

Another great book by Hain is Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men. In this book, Hain undertakes to synthesize a lifestyle that combines authentic masculinity with a deep spirituality.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Uniformity with God’s Will is a very short but highly practical little book which lays out a path to holiness based on submitting our will to God’s throughout the events of every day life.

Dr. Gregory Popcak’s Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving is a favorite wedding gift for my husband’s friends. This isn’t simply a book about sex. Rather, it’s about how every moment of our day to day married lives needs to be about loving and serving one another, because that is the path to a happy marriage.

We are admittedly fond of Popcak’s books, so Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids has been our general road map for parenting style.

My husband really enjoyed reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know recently, and has already loaned it out to a friend! He was really impressed with how important the father is for girls’ success in life on every level from emotional stability to academic success to being able to pick a good husband.

Since we were blessed to attend classes by Dr. John Cuddeback during college, we have a particular fondness for True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. Cuddeback draws on Aristotelian philosophy to explain what true friendship looks like and what its purpose is.

My husband has a fondness for Venerable Fulton Sheen’s work, whether in audio or book form. We own Life is Worth Living, which is a collection of scripts from Sheen’s extremely popular television show of the same title. Each chapter is short, but thought-provoking.

Dale Ahlquist takes G. K. Chesterton’s prodigious genius and simplifies it to a level that mere mortals can understand at the end of a fourteen hour work day. All Roads: Roamin’ Catholic Apologetics is a series of very short (three page usually) chapters which clarify Chesterton’s unique wisdom and insight on a wide variety of topics.

The Way, Furrow, The Forge are three spiritual classics by Josemaria Escriva which my husband enjoys for its concise yet compelling one liners about following Jesus.

Good books about Emotions for little Catholic kids

I know I am not the only mom God has blessed with very strong willed and passionate children! Helping my little ones learn to understand and control their strong feelings is a daily challenge. One of the most successful techniques I have found is reading them books to familiarize them with the different emotions, normalize their strong feelings, and teach techniques for dealing with emotions. Here are some of our favorite books about emotions and feelings.

What Do You Do With a Grumpy Kangaroo? is one of our favorite first books about feelings. Grumpy kangaroo feels a range of emotions from anger to fear to sadness to happiness throughout his day.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear is not specifically about emotions, but it is easy to pick up the wide range of emotions the mouse feels throughout the story and point out his expressions.

Jilly’s Terrible Temper Tantrums: And How She Outgrew Them is the perfect book for the young child who struggles with terrible temper tantrums. I love how Jilly’s parents exhibit patience and calm throughout the story!

When I Feel Scared, When I Feel Sad , and When I Feel Angry are a series of books written specifically to help young children identify the emotions they feel and deal with these emotions in healthy ways. These books contain a section at the back with teaching tips, questions to discuss with your child, and further ideas for handling emotions.

Can God See Me in the Dark? takes a Catholic look at a mild fear of the dark by addressing whether God is still watching over children in the dark. We love this series by Neal Lozano!

One Busy Day is not overtly about emotions, but it does offer a good lesson about different situations where different feelings are appropriate to act on. Active, crazy Spencer takes his energy and wild feelings outside so that he can be calm when his new little sister is around.

The Treasure Tree: Helping Kids Understand Their Personality is a wonderful story about four animal friends with very different personalities who use their strengths to together complete a treasure hunt. Great for showing children that their strong willed personality may have different strengths and weaknesses than their friends’ temperaments, but that all sorts of personalities are important.

Not a book, but I’ve had good success playing Q’s Race to the Top Educational Board Game as an extension of reading about emotions and feelings. This game helps children practice skills to deal with emotions and empathize with others.