Review of “Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary”

Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary book cover

St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus through Mary is often considered the gold standard of Marian devotion. Sophia Institute Press recently published Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s creative variation on the traditional consecration. In Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, O’Boyle provides a valuable resource to help families consecrate their hearts to Jesus and Mary following the outline set out by St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

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Kid-Friendly, Parent-friendly

Parents will appreciate how easy this book makes completing a family consecration! O’Boyle lays out in detail a mini-retreat for each of the 33 days based on the traditional themes in a Montfort preparation. What does a day of mini-retreat look like? There’s a short morning and evening prayer, a page of teaching for parents, another page of teaching and discussion with your children, an action to carry out, and a brief family prayer. The teachings and actions are intended for children 7 and older, so this preparation is perfect for a family with elementary to high school age children. I love how easy this book is for the parent: there is no advance preparation required at all, just open and go!

Useful Extras

In addition to the 33 days of preparation, Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary includes other handy additions. There’s a list of 17 Marian Feast Days with the accompanying days to start a preparation. That’s at least a feast day a month, so plenty of opportunities to start preparing for a consecration sooner rather than later! One of my other favorite extras was O’Boyle’s adaptation of de Montfort’s consecration prayer to make it more child-accessible. Of course, the original prayer is included too for adults and older teens.

A Worthwhile Endeavor

With families home and spending more time together than usual these days, this is the perfect time to to embark on a family consecration. I’m excited to use Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary with my own children this fall. As we begin our school year, we’ll be doing the family consecration as part of our afternoon basket in August and September. It would be easy to do the preparation at the dinner table also. The True Devotion to Mary is a powerful devotion, and Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary is a marvelous way to bring that devotion to life in your own family.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Review of “Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz”

St. Maximilian Kolbe is truly a saint for day modern-day Catholics to admire and emulate. From his successful media outreach work to his missionary work to his sacrificial death, St. Maximilian Kolbe lived a life of charity and love. This exciting new graphic novel from Sophia Institute Press brings St. Maximilian Koble’s story to life with high quality illustrations and photographs of the saint.

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The Whole Story

Most Catholics are familiar with St. Maximilian Kolbe’s dramatic sacrificial death as Auschwitz: so much so that he is often known as The Saint of Auschwitz. But this graphic novel delves deeper and follows the thread of Maximilian’s life from childhood to death. Through St. Maximilian’s remembrances in concentration camp, you will learn about Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s work establishing the Militia of the Immaculata, establishment of Catholic magazines and newspapers, missionary work in Japan, and more. As I read The Saint of Auschwitz, I was blown away by how much a young priest with tuberculosis accomplished in his short life.

Inspiration for Today’s Teens

This graphic novel will powerfully motivate tweens, teens, and even adults to live life with joy, charity, and a missionary zeal in the spirit of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I think most tweens will be fine with the level of intensity. St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story is sad and intense; fifteen days in a bunker waiting to die of hunger and thirst is a horrifying death. But his choice to embrace this death out of charity for a stranger and his joy in suffering is an inspiration that today’s youth will respond to with enthusiasm.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more great graphic novels for Catholic kids? Check out my list of Graphic Novels and Comic Books!

Review of “The Day-by-Day Coloring Book of Saints”

day-by-day coloring book of saints volume 2 cover image

It never ceases to amaze me what riches Catholic authors and publishers are creating to enrich our liturgical year! Author Anna Maria Mendell and illustrator Mary MacArthur recently teamed up with Sophia Institute Press to produce a truly wonderful resource. The Day-by-Day Coloring Book of Saints invites you to delve deep into the feast of inspiration that our Catholic Church offers through the liturgical year. Celebrate heroic men and women of faith every day this year as you create beauty with this coloring book!

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Day-by-Day Coloring Book of Saints Volume 1 covers January-June, and Volume 2 spans the rest of the year from July-December. Each day your child can read a one page biography of the saint complete with memorable anecdotes. And, of course, there’s a beautiful coloring page for your child. By the end of the year, your child will have learned a ton about a range of saints, ancient to modern, and created a uniquely illustrated book they can keep!

Yes, you can find coloring pages for some of these saints online these days. But you really can’t match the convenience of these coloring books! You have all the saints for the year, details about their life, and all in one place. These books make liturgical living easy!

I’m planning on using these coloring books as part of my religion program for my 1st grader, who will love coloring the pictures as I read to her about the saints. A 3rd grader or older could read the biographies independently and color as part of a personal prayer time. These coloring books would be a great addition to a religion program, a morning time basket, or family prayer time!

Coloring Contest Day by Day Coloring Book of Saints

Interested in getting The Day-By-Day Coloring Book of Saints free? Until August 8th, Sophia Institute Press is holding a Coloring Contest with prizes being copies of this coloring book set!

The Rules are simple:

1. Follow Sophia Institute Press and The Catholic Company on your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter).

2. Print out the coloring page and color it in: SophiaInstitute.com/ColoringPage

3. Post a photo of the colored page on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and tag Sophia.

4. Open to US residents only.

Day-by-Day Coloring Book of Saints Set book cover

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Day-by-Day Coloring Book of Saints” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more great resources for Catholic kids check out my book lists!

Review of “Shadow in the Dark”

Shadow in the Dark book cover. Catholic book review.

Step straight into Medieval England as you open Shadow in the Dark, the first volume in a brand new series by Antony Kolenc. With a meticulous attention to the historical setting and thoughtful insight into Medieval Catholicism, Kolenc weaves a fascinating and exciting tale. The story begins with young Xan’s dramatic conflict with a band of robbers, which results in Xan losing his family, memory, and feeling of identity. While packing in plenty of action, what makes Shadow in the Dark really stand out among middle grade historical fiction is Xan’s insightful search for the meaning of his suffering and journey of faith.

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What is Identity?

12 year old Xan loses his memory completely at the beginning of the book which leads him to question who he is, and seek a purpose in life. Although most tweens and young teens don’t have to deal with amnesia, they will identify with Xan’s quest to define himself and his place in life. A major theme in Shadow in the Dark is Xan’s quest for identity. He looks to his new “family” of monks at Hardwell Abbey for assistance in his search.

A wise nun tells him: “If you find our purpose- where you fit into this new life of yours- then you will find your joy again.” One of the monks suggests that Xan may find meaning in learning to read and write and study. Later, Xan begins to see himself as an integral part of God’s plan for the Abbey: the boy who can solve the mystery. When Xan begins to see himself as following God’s plan, he begins to find peace. This message about identity being found in your vocation, in doing God’s will, is a great one for young teens to read!

Meaning in Suffering

Twined with Xan’s search for meaning is his struggle to understand his own suffering: why did his parents die? Why did he lose his memory? Difficult questions, and Shadow in the Dark doesn’t give a trite answer. Eventually, with prayer and thought, Xan accepts that his parents are in heaven and, in a way, better off, though he will always miss them. As he sees his purpose in God’s plan for the Abbey, he begins to glimpse meaning in his own suffering. The question of suffering is another great subject for tweens and teens to begin to ponder, since this is an inevitable question in any Christian’s life.

Bullying and Friendship

When Xan joins the other orphan boys at the Abbey, he immediately runs afoul of the bully, John. Shadow in the Dark does a wonderful job depicting Xan’s initial attempts to avoid trouble and eventual rise to the occasion to protect the younger boys. Even better, Xan later works as a peacemaker and gives John a role in solving the Abbey mystery. In the end, Xan and John are striking up a friendship.

Reading Historical Fiction Critically

Although I loved Shadow in the Dark as a whole, there are a few points parents may want to be aware of for an advance discussion with their children. Author Kolenc definitely agrees with this; he provides a handy preface that encourages his young readers to notice historical differences in practice and attitude and evaluate whether these differences are positive or negative. For example, there’s one old monk who has special permission from his Abbot to engage in self flagellation to unite himself with Christ’s sufferings. The other monks emphasize that this is a “dangerous” practice and only to be undertaken with special permission from a religious superior.

Emotional Cliff Hanger Conclusion

Although I loved the emphasis on identity and meaning in suffering, and Xan grew a lot over the course of the book, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey! In the poignant conclusion, Xan witnesses the Abbot forgive and spare the life of a bandit. This bandit not only tried to kill the Abbot, but is also responsible for the death of Xan’s parents and many others. The Abbot, with infinite wisdom and holiness, extends forgiveness and touches the bandit’s heart, moving him to repentance. However, Xan, furious still about his parents’ deaths, feels no forgiveness towards the man who is responsible. Clearly, Xan still has a long way to go on his spiritual journey! Hopefully the second volume will follow soon so we can find out how he learns to forgive!

Great for the Middle Grades

5th-8th grade tweens and teens will enjoy this masterfully constructed historical fiction novel. There’s adventure, there’s mystery, there’s justice, there’s friendship. Xan is a relatable hero grappling with common coming of age problems. The overall positive depiction of a medieval Abbey as a center of learning and charitable works is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the future volumes in this series!

Shadow in the Dark is available for pre-order now!

I received a copy of “Shadow in the Dark” from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Book cover "Shadow in the Dark" book review Catholic kids

Sleepy Bedtime Stories for Little Ones

Looking for that quintessential bedtime story that your little one will listen to every single night before going to bed? These books have gentle, rhythmic text, sweet illustrations, and timeless themes about bedtime and sleep.

Sylvia Long’s lovely new version of the classic lullaby Hush Little Baby has an amazing nature theme. A mother rabbit soothes her little one to bed by pointing out the natural beauty around them. A great improvement on the mercenary motif in the traditional version of this popular bedtime song!

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Each beautiful page of Time for Bed shows a mother baby and her animal preparing for bed. We love the gorgeous illustrations in this soothing book.

In Baby’s Boat, an adorable little boy sails across a sleepy sea in his moonboat, fishing with star bait. A sure recipe for sweet dreams.

In Little Donkey Close Your Eyes, animal mothers urge their babies to close their eyes in this simple, calming poem by beloved author Margaret Wise Brown.

A soothing poem about falling asleep by Eric Metaxas is complemented by Nancy Tillman’s gorgeous illustrations in It’s Time to Sleep, My Love. Animals around the world prepare for bed and coax their babies to sleep.

In The Sleep Ponies, a grandmother teaches her rosy-cheeked grandchild to calm her body and mind by picturing a herd of adorable ponies carrying her off to sweet dreams.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a favorite with the boys! Each might machine on a construction site prepares for bed and goes to sleep in this goodnight story.

Bear Can’t Sleep and Bear Snores On are two adorable books about a bear who can’t sleep (and then oversleeps!)

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is the quintessential bedtime classic that children love hearing again and again.

Donald and his rabbit both can’t sleep! Donald begins to emphasize with his mother as he keeps trying to settle down his rambunctious rabbit friend in Are You Asleep, Rabbit?

In this gorgeously illustrated bedtime story, a little boy asks his dad how each animal on the farm goes to sleep. I love the patient, sleepy dad and the curious boy in Going to Sleep on the Farm.

Review of “The Princess Diaries”

Princess Diaries review book cover

This book starts out with an epigraph from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is a true classic about acting like a princess inside even in the worst of circumstances. Unfortunately, The Princess Diaries does not live up to the epigraph or remotely inspire princess-like behavior in its young audience. I really dislike it when books marketed for tweens and young teens are full of sexual content, so prepare for a rant!

The premise

This diary is clearly intended to appeal to the 12-14 year old crowd. It’s the secret musings of Mia, a 14 year old high school freshman with tough hair and a phlegmatic personality. Used to hanging out with the school misfits, Mia becomes unexpectedly popular when she finds out she’s actually a European princess. Positives in this book? There are some basic positive themes about good friendships and anti-bullying and Mia is a reasonably likeable heroine.

But really, who wants their 12 year old reading about sex stuff?

This book is chock full of a completely unnecessary amount of content focused on sex. For example, right off the bat Mia speculates about her mother’s new boyfriend: “he’s not so cool if he’s sticking his tongue in your mom’s mouth.” Mia goes on to wish that the cool boy in school would put his tongue in her mouth though. Throughout the book, Mia spends a lot of time thinking about whether her mom is sleeping with her new boyfriend, and at one point does discover him in her apartment in boxers.

Another highlight is a long conversation between Mia, her best friend Lilly, and Lilly’s 18 year old brother. They talk about condoms and spermicidal fluid, losing their virginity, and who they’d choose to have sex with if they were the last person alive.

Other highlights include joking about her best friend’s brother sexually harassing her, and also Mia brushing off a creepy blind guy who gropes her as unimportant. Mia also laughs at herself for not knowing what “frenching” was when she was 11, like her cousin did. At one point, Mia’s grandmother the Princess Dowager calls her a hooker. At another point Mia describes a woman who inspired her; the inspiring part seems to be that the woman has plastic surgery lips made from her vagina.

What’s the big deal with lying again?

Like other modern “children’s” books, The Princess Diaries sadly normalizes lying and deception as a part of life. Mia frequently lies to her parents. At first, she tells herself in her diary to “stop lying.” But then she seems to “grow” in her view on lying and her self-coaching becomes: “tell the truth except when doing so would hurt someone’s feelings.” And later, “stop lying, and/or think of better lies.”

Political Bent

Another issue of note is Mia’s rather anti-religion, “open-minded” worldview. She admires Madonna because she “revolutionized” fashion by dancing in front of burning crosses and “wasn’t afraid to make the Pope mad.” Mia is proud that she refuses to go to church because she “refused to pray to a god who would allow rain forests to be destroyed in order to make grazing room for cows who would later become Quarter Pounders.”

Mia is also anti-gun, and pro-propaganda. She tells her readers that a stalker is allowed to buy a machine gun “in this country thanks to our totally unrestrictive gun laws.” Fact check: you can’t just buy a machine gun in America. That’s been illegal since 1986.

Mia’s a proud child of divorce. She lives primarily with her doting Bohemian mother and spends summers with her filthy rich royal father. Her parents are friendly to each other, but Mia confides that “things would majorly suck, I think, if they lived together.” She’s “perfectly happy” with her divorced parents.

Turning over in her grave

I doubt that Frances Hodgson Burnett and her heroine Sara are grateful for the tributary epigraph, which really doesn’t fit this teen novel. Unlike Sara, who strives to be a princess, Mia spends most of the book either complaining and acting out because she’s a princess or obsessing about boys and sex. I found little to redeem this book. It really reads like an intentional attempt to indoctrinate young girls into a certain political and sexual mindset.

There are so many better princess books out there! Shannon Hale’s fantastic Princess Academy series is a great example of a modern princess book which focuses on female friendships, sacrifices, and coming of age.

For other worthwhile Princess books, check out this list!

For better romances for teens, check out this list!

Review of “Catholic Children’s Treasure Box” Series

 The Treasure Box books are a sweetly illustrated, old-timey series reprinted by Tan Books. Dating back to the 1950s, the Treasure Box series was published as a Catholic children’s magazine. Written and edited by the Maryknoll Sisters, this series is a throwback to a more innocent time in primarily good but occasionally troublesome ways.

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The Positives

Following in the steps of the Good Shepherd, Treasure Box uses original parables to teach Catholic doctrine and virtues in a way a 3-6 year old can readily understand. For example, one story is about a rich, selfish man who dreams he goes to heaven and finds his clothing there tattered and holey because of his selfish behavior on earth. Other stories have messages about lying, rumors, hard work, honoring the elderly, and stewardship.

Each Treasure Box has an installment in at least one or two serial-style stories, which kids love to follow from volume to volume. My kids’ favorite serial describes the efforts of a charming guardian angel to care for his young African charge and bring missionaries to his remote village. This serial has some great themes about spiritual warfare, supporting missionaries, and devotion to your guardian angel. Other serials follow St. Therese of Lisieux, the story of Creation, and the story of the Holy Family.

Each Treasure Box contains a fun nostalgic section of toy-free play activities, games, and crafts with everyday items. There are also a short poetry selection, fun rhymes, and prayers. Each volume is full of beautiful illustrations and vintage charm.

The Negatives

Overall, we love the Treasure Box books, but there are a few areas where the old-school flavor isn’t an unmitigated positive. There are a few places I either skip a story or provide careful commentary.

For example, Volume 3 has an installment in the St. Therese story where little Therese’s father asks her for a kiss, and she says “No!” Then her father goes inside sadly and her sisters tell her how naughty she was to say no. You see where I’m going with this. I’m sure that back in 1950, this was an entirely innocent story that was supposed to be about listening to your parents or being polite or something. However, in our modern world with our greater awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse, we definitely don’t want our kids to get the idea it’s wrong to say “No” when someone in authority asks for a kiss, or more! So this part of Volume 3 I either skip or explain carefully that her sisters meant Therese said “No” in a sassy way and she should have said “No, thank you!” And we talk about how it’s always okay to say no to someone touching you, bodily autonomy, and so on.

Another place that 1950’s norms don’t exactly match with modern sensibilities is when it come to corporal punishment. There are a few occasions over the 20 volumes of Treasure Box where someone gets a spanking or is threatened with a spanking. A lot of families nowadays are anti-corporal punishment so this is another place where a simple omission or commentary might be needed.

There’s also the rare intense story with a little violence that might disturb sensitive children. Notably in Volume 17, there’s a German folk tale about Shepherd Honest, who is coerced by a scheming courtier to kill the king’s favorite white lamb and deliver the heart to be eaten. My sensitive daughter was quite upset about the fact that the lamb was killed and it’s heart eaten. No illustration of this scene thankfully, but even hearing about this upsets some children!

All things considered

Overall, I do recommend the Treasure Box books. Their sweet vintage illustrations, virtue-building stories, and fun activities make them great for bedtime read-alouds or as a bi-weekly “magazine” to surprise your little ones with. The 2 serial stories per volume make using these as a “magazine” particularly enjoyable. It’s fun waiting to hear what happens to Therese or Wupsy next! With just the few issues I mentioned above which are sections easily omitted, these volumes are very enjoyable for little Catholic children. I think the ideal age to read these aloud is 3-6, though slightly older siblings often enjoy listening in too!

Review of “The Letzenstein Chronicles”

Cover "The Letzenstein Chronicles"

In turbulent mid-nineteenth century Europe, a young English girl is summoned to visit her dying grandfather, the Grand Duke of Letzenstein. Letzenstein is a fictional tiny European country, clearly inspired by Luxembourg. The young girl is Catherine Ayre, a lonely orphan. Her visit is to determine the future of a country on the brink of revolution. The Crystal Snowstorm is the exciting introduction in Meriol Trevor’s magnificent Letzenstein Chronicles.

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An Authentically Catholic Series

Meriol Trevor was a prolific twentieth century Catholic author. Originally from England, she helped in Italy during World War II as a relief worker. She eventually converted to Catholicism and wrote a wide variety of books for children and adults. Several of her children’s books have been republished in recent years by Bethlehem Books.

Meriol Trevor is that rare Catholic author whose books inspire virtue and love for truth and beauty so subtly you almost don’t see her trying. Like its inspiration Luxembourg, Letzenstein is a predominantly a Catholic country. Catherine Ayre gets to enter a city and country imbued with Catholic culture and art. She gets to encounter a variety of Catholics: some who strive to live their faith and some for whom faith is a facade. Tweens and young teens will appreciate the authenticity of Trevor’s depiction: there are corrupt Catholics, even corrupt clergy, in Letzenstein. But there are also Christ figures and repentant sinners who will lay down their lives to protect the innocent.

Trevor is truly a master of gently nudging her readers towards the path of virtue. The good characters in Letzenstein are compassionate and admirable, and the villains are slippery and scheming. No young reader wants to imitate devious Julius; everyone loves Rafael le Marre, the repentant sinner.

Exciting, but not just about the Action

The Letzenstein books certainly do have plenty of action. You will find daring escapes, fast-paced pursuits, clever disguises, sieges, and schemes and plots galore. Yet Trevor manages to avoid any graphic violence. Further, she manages to portray the villain’s acts of violence as truly deplorable and revolting.

Really, the Letzenstein Chronicles are about relationships: between friends, relations, rivals, families. Each character leaps from the page as if alive. Trevor is such a master storyteller she leads the reader to feel deeply invested in the fate of her characters. She tells each story from the viewpoint of a 10-12 year old child, which draws her readers into the story in a compelling way.

Any Content?

The Letzenstein Chronicles are very clean with no sexual content. There is no graphic violence or foul language. On the other hand, there is some light alcohol use. Remember this is a European book by a European author so children drinking a little wine is culturally normal. There is one episode where an adult character is given drugged alcohol by the villain in an attempt to extract information. This perfidy is portrayed as very reprehensible behavior on the villain’s part.

A Treasure Worth Finding

I highly recommend The Letzenstein Chronicles for 9-14 year olds. They also make a wonderful read-aloud for 3rd-6th graders.

The bad news is, these books can be a bit hard to find. All four Letzenstein Chronicles are available as E-Books. And you can buy the paperback of The Crystal Snowstorm from the publisher, Bethlehem Books. But to buy the paperbacks of Following the Phoenix, Angel and Dragon, or The Rose and Crown, you will have to settle for a used copy. Consider emailing publisher Bethlehem Books and asking for them to reprint this wonderful series!

For more great books for Catholic Kids, check out my book lists!

50 Beautiful Picture Books You Will Want to Own

The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immersed while living here below, and in providing a window to the infinite for his hungry soul.

“The Function of Art” ~ Pope Pius XII

In our family, one way we find that glimpse into the infinite is through beautiful picture books. The artists and illustrators of the books listed here have used their talents to provide children with truly beautiful pictures which fill their hearts with a love for beauty. As they grow older, that foundation will prepare them to contemplate the beauty and majesty of their Creator.

We love Josephine Nobisso’s wonderful Catholic stories which are beautifully complemented by Katlin Szegedi’s luminous illustrations. Check out both their collaborations: The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith and Take It to the Queen: A Tale of Hope.

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Elsa Beskow’s attention to detail and soft watercolors are so enchanting! Peter’s Old House is a heart-warming story of a community coming together to rebuild a kind but poor neighbor’s house.

Many of Elsa Beskow’s stories, like Peter in Blueberry Land, have a fairy tale quality that works perfectly with her delicate, lovely illustrations.

Demi’s masterful and original artwork complement several beautiful books about the saints, including: Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bernadette, and Hildegard of Bingen.

Demi’s masterful and original artwork complement several beautiful books about the saints, including: Saint Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and Saint Bernadette and the Miracles of Lourdes.

Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella retelling has the most gorgeous fairy tale illustrations with lots of silvers and magical glows. She also hsa other incredibly beautiful versions of classic fairy tales like Rose Red and Snow White.

We also enjoy Sanderson’s versions of unique fairy tales from around the world such as The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring and The Enchanted Wood.

Ruth Sanderson also has illustrated some lovely religious books, like The Nativity and Saints: Lives & Illuminations.

The Complete Brambly Hedge is chock-full of lovely, detailed nature illustrations and perfectly whiskered mice. We love these peaceful stories, perfect for a summer day.

British author and illustrator Jane Hissey draws the most charming pictures of huggable stuffed animals. We love The Old Bear Collection and all its sequels.

Miss Rumphius wants to make the world a more beautiful place. So, apparently, does author and illustrator Barbara Cooney, whose delicate depictions of coastal New England make me want to visit.

Jan Brett has perfected picture books for children. Simple but entertaining stories, often based on fairy tales, and the most detailed artwork you’ll ever see. Children spend hours pouring over her books. Some of our favorites include: Mossy, Annie and the Wild Animals, The Hat, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, and Cinders.

The talented Trina Hyman’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood features a sweet, very young Red Riding Hood and rich woodland scenes. Warning for littler readers: this retelling includes the wolf swallowing both Red and Grandma, and then the Woodsman cutting up the wolf to rescue them.

We also enjoy the Trina Schart Hyman illustrions in Margaret Hodges’ retellings of The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur and Saint George and the Dragon

The oil paintings in Heckedy Peg provide a richness and depth seldom found in picture books. In this fairy tale, a mother must rescue her 7 children from an evil witch.

Rechenka’s Eggs is the story of a miracle for a lonely old woman. Patricia Polacco captures the Russian flavor of this story with intricate, colorful illustrations.

The artwork in Claire Nivola’s childhood memoir, Orani, glows with a warm Mediterranean vibe. A simple description of an American girl’s impressions of the vibrant everyday life in a traditional Italian village.

In Jerry Pinkney’s wordless version of The Lion & the Mouse, the pictures themselves tell the classic fable. Other beautifully executed Pinkney books include The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Tortoise & the Hare.

Out and About is a perfect introduction to poetry, complemented by lovely drawings of the changing seasons and family life.

Another beautiful Shirley Hughes book is Lucy and Tom at the Seaside. Hughes’ style lends itself well to the detailed beach scenes depicting a family’s day at the seaside.

The Sleep Ponies is a whimsical dream story with appropriately dreamy, luminous watercolors throughout.

Paul Zelinsky’s gorgeous retelling of Rapunzel is rich and compelling.

I love the old English folk song Over in the Meadow, and have two favorite versions. I appreciate the colorful slavic style in Feodor Rojankovsky’s illustrations.

But I also love the incredibly realistic illustrations in Feirabend’s version of Over in the Meadow. These animals could leap right off the page!

This book is beautiful, every margin is full of delicate drawings of seeds and plants, and it helps kids appreciate the gorgeous bounty of a garden. We love How Groundhog’s Garden Grew!

Days on the Farm: This lovely storybook collection has six stories of farm life with delicate, detailed illustrations inspired by life on a sheep farm.

Our Lady's Wardrobe

The amazing illustrations in Our Lady’s Wardrobe fit perfectly with the heavenly theme! Check out my full review here!

Penny Dale’s sweet pictures of children mesh well with Martin Waddell’s insightful stories about the dynamics of dealing with a new sibling in Rosie’s Babie and When the Teddy Bears Came.

Little Donkey Close Your Eyes is a classic Margaret Wise Brown story paired with gorgeous bright illustrations in sunset shades.

Home Sweet Home: This beautiful poem blessing creation is paired with Ashley Wolff’s detailed illustrations.

Unique illustrations and perspectives capture these adorable Owl Babies to a feather.

David Wiesner’s realistic illustrations capture the motion and force of the Hurricane.

Graeme Base’s Animalia is a new height in alphabet books. Abundant alliteration, vibrant illustrations, and a unique meshing of fantasy and reality make this book memorable.

Box Turtle at Long Pond depicts a day in the life of a turtle with vibrant, realistic pictures.

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In The Great Redwall Feast, Brian Jacques describes a merry feast in the Abbey, rife with cheerful animals.

Jim Arnosky’s love for plants and animals can be seen in his carefully executed drawings. We enjoy his children’s picture books such Rabbits and Raindrops and Every Autumn Comes the Bear.

Maurice Pledger draws intricate, colorful books for little ones. His touch and feel books like Nature Trails are perfect for nurturing an appreciation for nature and wildlife.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of beautiful picture books! Feel free to comment with books you would like to see added to this list!

Review of “The Sword and the Serpent” Trilogy

Would you become a Christian if it meant certain persecution?

Cover "Sword and Serpent" review

The Sword and Serpent Trilogy is an exciting series which weaves together legends of many early Christian saints and martyrs into a fascinating narrative. Dr. Taylor Marshall, a Catholic Theologian and Philosopher, draws on what we know of the lives of iconic saints such as St. George, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, and St. Christopher. Get to know these fourth century saints in a personal and inspiring way through these notable new novels.

“Saints aren’t born. They are forged.”

In his creative retellings, Dr. Marshall seeks to convey the humanity of great saints to the reader. By showing the journey of growth and conversion which saints like St. George and St. Christopher might have taken, Dr. Marshall makes these saints accessible and relatable to readers in a new way.

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In the first book, Sword and Serpent, Jurian (St. George) loses his home and family because of Christian persecution. Jurian’s coming of age and maturity parallels his journey in faith as he moves past anger and revenge to follow God’s gentle guidance. Along the way Jurian encounters and is helped by courageous saints like St. Nicholas, St. Blaise, and St. Christopher. The dragon Jurian meets is not quite quite the dragon you might be expecting. And he slays the dragon, but not by himself.

In the second book, The Tenth Region of the Night, female saints get more page space. St. Catherine of Alexandria, Aikaterina, jumps off the page with her prodigious intellect and insatiable thirst for truth which leads her to the One Truth eventually. Intermingled with Aikaterina’s story, Jurian’s journey continues as he works to free St. Christopher from his persecutors.

In the third book, Storm of Fire and Blood, Jurian travels into exile in the wilds of Britain, bearing the sword Excalibur back to its homeland. Meanwhile, Aikaterina rules Alexandria for her ailing father and debates with Emperors. All the Christians prepare themselves for the coming storm of Diocletian persecution.

Some Fine Storytelling

Quite independent of the religious merit, the Sword and Serpent trilogy is worth reading as a well-crafted story. The attention to historical detail is meticulous. The balance of humanizing the saints without diminishing their holiness is superbly executed. There’s a fascinating subplot about the sword Excalibur and Arthurian legends. There’s another intriguing storyline about the influence early Christian saints may have had on a young Constantine. A bit of myth, a bit of legend, a bit of historical fact combine to make a captivating and inspiring series.

Wisdom from the Past

The Sword and Serpent books superbly portray the first centuries of the Church when to be Christian was to accept persecution and eventual martyrdom. The courage and faith of these early saints during the Diocletian persecution offers an inspiration and a challenge to us all. In our post-Christian world, our children need books like these to remind them of where we came from and what heroic virtue we as Christians are capable of achieving.

Enjoyable For Teens and Adults

The Sword and Serpent series is completely clean and appropriate for teens. There is no foul language. Alcohol use is somewhat frequent, in keeping with the historical time period when beer or watered wine was commonly drank by all people with meals. No glorification of drunkenness though.

Given the backdrop of Christian persecution in the fourth century, there is some level of moderate violence. For example, some Christians are burned to death; others are fed to wild beasts. However, there are no gratuitously graphic descriptions of these acts of violence.

I wholeheartedly recommend this fine series for all teenagers and also for adults! The Sword and Serpent series is a perfect impetus to renew our sense of faith and hope and rediscover the power of the Gospel message.

Looking for more great books for Catholic teens? Check out my book lists!