“Mama, Sing My Song” Review

Mama, Sing My Song book cover

Mama, Sing My Song

Cuddly animal babies and mothers bound through this lovely new picture book written especially to help mothers inculcate an understanding of boundless love in their children. As mothers read this book to their little ones over and over, children will hear the important message that they are “a masterpiece- God’s work of art” and “a special treasure.” They’ll feel secure and treasured knowing that both their mother and God love them without limits.

A Perfect Gift to Cherish

This sweet book would make a perfect gift for a Baby Shower, Baptism, Christmas or Birthday. There is space in the beginning for a commemorative inscription and a parent to write down their hopes for their child. In the back of the book are spaces for the parents to write down the meaning of the child’s name, a Bible verse for their life, and a prayer for their child.

A Lullaby, a Poem, a Story, a Memory

Whether you download the free song version of Mama, Sing My Song and play it for your child, sing this lullaby yourself, or read it aloud as a poem, your child will feel loved. I love that this book connects the sometimes distant and esoteric concept of God’s love with something even a tiny child understands: their mother’s love. Now they just need to write a version for fathers!

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link here: Mama, Sing My Song

For more favorite picture books for young children, check out My Book Lists!

aerial view photography of green leaf trees surrounded by body of water at daytime

“Where the Crawdads Sing” Review

where the crawdads sing cover

Where the Crawdads Sing

I may be a little late to the game with this review since Where the Crawdads Sing has been garnering attention for over 4 years now. I actually read it when it came out but wasn’t doing adult book reviews at that point. With the new movie bringing it to the top of best-seller lists again, I re-read and revisited my thoughts on this much-lauded book. As I re-read it (and stayed up too late) I remembered why it’s a bestseller. And then I remembered why I ended up hating it.

SPOILER ALERT: This review is going to utterly spoil the big reveal about the murder mystery. Sorry folks; I’m going to recommend against reading it anyway.

Busy Mom Quick Synopsis

6 year old Kya watches her mother, siblings, and father abandon her one after another. With minimal community support, she scratches out a precarious survival alone in the marsh. As she comes of age, she desperately seeks love and acceptance in the wrong places. A mysterious and isolated woman living alone in the swamp, the townspeople regard her with suspicion. When the town’s golden boy is murdered, fingers quickly begin to point Kya’s way. Does she have a single friend to defend her?

Why it’s a best-seller

First of all, it’s a beautifully written story about nature. That’s not a compliment I hand out lightly. Delia Owens must have a deep love of the flora and fauna of the North Carolina marshes. Her genuine delight in natural beauty and belief in the healing power of nature make this book memorable. As a fellow nature lover, I enjoyed her descriptions of the wonder of God’s creation.

Secondly, it’s a heart-warming story. An abandoned young girl from an abusive family beats the odds to educate herself and build a successful career as a writer and illustrator. It’s the stuff of Hallmark movies and human interest articles. Honestly, it’s so far-fetched it strains credibility.

Third, it’s a fast-moving storyline with a murder mystery intertwined. It keeps you turning the pages after your bedtime.

Why I don’t recommend Where the Crawdads Sing

First and foremost, skip this book because of the gratuitous sex scenes. There are multiple fade-out to fully described scenes, some with an underage teen Kya, along with a rape scene. Can you skip over them fairly easily? Yes, you see where the scene is going and can skip a few pages. Did they need to be in this book? Nope. They add nothing to the story and feel voyeuristic. And they definitely make this book a hard no for teens.

On a more philosophical level, I disliked the theme about people being fundamentally highly evolved animals. Kay interprets human interactions in animal terms, perhaps not completely unnaturally given her isolated life. But the author does not lead the reader to the conclusion that Kya is wrong here. Kya’s morality is a Darwinistic survival of the fittest code of ethics. And this leads to the ending, which I hated.

Throughout the book, the big conflict is whether Kya is guilty of the blatant murder of her former boyfriend Chase. As the reader, you’re assuming soft-spoken and nature-loving Kya is innocent. You’re condemning the townspeople for prejudice and judgment against an eccentric outlier. When her lawyer brings forward enough doubt to convince a jury to acquit her, you’re cheering.

But then… the last pages of the book, you realize she did it. She cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of the ex-boyfriend who lied to and later attacked her. Was he a horrible human being? Yes. Does this make me feel any better about the “heroine” murdering him with full intent and not in self-defense? No.

What bothered me most about this jarring conclusion was the feeling that throughout the entire book, the author is trying to set up the reader to condone the murder. It’s like Delia Owens is trying to have the reader walk away going, “Well, maybe murder is okay, sometimes.”

Not a conclusion that sits well with me!

For books I do recommend for adults, check out my For Catholic Parents page!

Road Trip! Explore the United States with chapter books!

Have the wanderlust? Enjoyed Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books?

Let’s explore the United States through classic chapter books!

United States chapter books and map

Northeastern United States

Enter into rural New England life with a group of 6 cousins living with their grandparents in Maine at the end of the 1800’s. Charming and often funny anecdotes of family and farm life.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Stories from Old Squire’s Farm

Go back in time to the 1700’s and visit the dense Maine wilderness where Matt watches over his family’s homestead alone. He quickly learns the frontier is home to heartless criminals- but also finds unexpected friends and allies in the local Indian tribe.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Sign of the Beaver

Visit New Hampshire and meet Miss Hickory, a charming little doll made out of an apple twig. Animals, dolls, and nature collide in this charming Newberry Winner.

Buy it through my Amazon link: Miss Hickory

The small but tough Morgan horse breed was developed in Vermont. In this true story told by acclaimed author Marguerite Henry, travel to the New England countryside and farm and learn how this all-American breed developed.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Tour Sam Gribley’s tree home in upstate New York‘s Catskill mountains. Sam describes how he survivies the tough winters alone in the mountains by learning how to live off the land.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: My Side of the Mountain

Discover the ghostly remains of a New York lake resort town with Portia and Julian in Gone Away Lake. This is a lovely story of nature, intergenerational friendship, and the New York countryside from beloved author Elizabeth Enright.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Gone Away Lake

Chester cricket is a country “boy” who finds himself making new friends nad experiencing the wonder of New York City, Times Square, and some unexpected friends.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Cricket in Times Square

Tour turn-of-the-century New York City with the 5 sisters of All of a Kind Family. Experience life for a Jewish family living in the Big Apple in this wonderful story of family life and adventures.

Buy it trhough my Amazon afflink: All-Of-A-Kind Family

Enter the world of New England sailors and learn about early navigation and ships in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, based on true events in Salem, Massachusets.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

For slightly older audiences, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women really brings alive the atmosphere of Concord, Massachusetts.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: Little Women

Meet Ginger Pye, the smartest dog in small-town Connecticut in Eleanor Estes’ beloved classic about kids and their dog.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Ginger Pye

Visit Civil War era Pennsylvania and learn about the momentous events along the Susquehanna River and how they impacted one boy’s life.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: Flames Across the Susquehanna

Go back to explore Revoluntionary War Era Philadelphia with Benjamin Franklin and his faithful mouse Amos in this whimsical story from Robert Lawson.

Buy it thorugh my Amazon affiliate link: Ben and Me

The amazing ture story of Father Farmer takes you to rural New Jersey in the Colonial period. Learn about a time nad missionary field when priests were unwelcome and adventures abounded.

Buy it through my amazon afflink: Priest on Horseback

Or, visit small-town New Jersey and laugh at the escapades of small-town American kids in Henry Reed, Inc.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Henry Reed, Inc

Southeastern United States

Part of acclaimed children’s author Lois Lenski’s Regionall Books series, Coal Camp Girl takes the reader to coal country in the West Virginia mountains.

Buy it through affiliate link: Coal Camp Girl

Visit coastal Virginia in this unforgettabale story of two resourceful children and one special horse.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Misty of Chincoteague

Travel to North Carolina to an 1800’s Quaker farm where orphaned Martitia struggles to find her place among a large family of cousins. Best for 12+ due to light romance part of story.

Buy it through my affiliate link: They Loved to Laugh

The charming Fairchild Family share their everyday adventures as they search for arrowheads, learn about trading, and work on their farm in the gorgeous Kentucky mountains.

All 4 books in the series are excellent. Buy through my affiliate link: Up and Down the River

Visit the war torn South with Hannalee, a young Civil War era girl who fights to return to her home in Georgia after being relocated by the Yankees.

Best for 12 and up due to a couple mild curses in some editions of book.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Turn Homeward, Hannalee

Meet a Florida farm family in Lois Lenski’s beloved classic Strawberry Girl.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Strawberry Girl

Learn about Helen Keller’s childhood in Alabama in this excellent and inspirational children’s biography.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Helen Keller

Explore the Mississippi River Valley with Minn, a snapping turtle. Kids love all Holling C. Holling’s books that take them on journeys!

Buy it through my affiliate links: Minn of the Mississippi

Another excellent Lois Lenski Regional Series book, Bayou Suzette brings Lousiana to life for readers.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Bayou Suzette

Midwestern United States

Travel with a little boy’s carved canoe through Michigan‘s Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean in this nature-filled voyage.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Paddle-to-the-Sea

Explore the woods of Wisconsin with beloved American tomboy Caddie Woodlawn. Sibling escapades, growing pains, and farm life against a backdrop of tough winters and bright summers.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Caddie Woodlawn

Experience pioneer life in Minnesota with Laura and Mary of Little House fame.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: On the Banks of Plum Creek

Or, visit turn of the century Minnesota town and join Betsy, Tacy, and Tib in a series of funny and heart warming small town adventures.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Betsy-Tacy Treasury

In the wilds of North Dakota, one farm family finds unexpected assistance from an injured Thoroughbred named Old Sam.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Old Sam, Dakota Trotter

Experience the harsh winters and short summers of the South Dakota grasslands with Laura Ingalls in By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate links:

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

Laura and Mary’s most famous adventures took place in Kansas in the beloved Little House on the Prairie.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Little House on the Prairie

Enjoy some humor from Iowa with these three tall tales about the hilarious McBroom family.

Buy through my affiliate link: McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm

All Eben McAllister wants is to get away from his boring small town life in Missouri. So his dad makes him a deal: discover Seven Wonders in his hometown and then he’ll get a trip to the city. A wonderful message about finding wonder in friends, family, and your own town.

Buy it through my affiliate link: The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

Life on a Missouri river town is never more lively than in Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Visit Chicago with a young Irish lad named Conn and experience the excitement of building the first Ferris Wheel and the Chicago World Fair.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Great Wheel

In this Newberry Honor book, Jethro, a young Illinois farm boy, experiences first hand the stresses of the Civil War Era.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Across Five Aprils

From making way too many doughnuts to capturing a gang of robbers with a little help from his pet skunk, Homer Price is always up something in small town Ohio.

Southwestern United States

Billy and his two hounds roam the Ozark hills in this beloved Oklahoma classic. Warnign: tear-jerker that may upset younger or sensitive kids.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Where the Red Fern Grows

In frontier era Texas, teenaged Travis takes on a man’s responsibilities on his family farm- including some tough choices. Warning: sad ending that may upset sensitive readers.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Old Yeller

Visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Against an arid desert backdrop, Brighty the burro wanders free. A Marguerite Henry classic.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Brighty of the Grand Canyon

In this semi-autobiographical novel, two young men travel around the southwest in an old Ford called “Shiftless,” scratching a living by art and odd jobs. A later installment in Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Shaking the Nickel Bush

Western United States

Tour California and search for gold with Jack and his butler Praiseworhty in this funny and heart-warming adventure.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: By the Great Horn Spoon

Here’s another Gold Rush era book about a brother and sister who travel by covered wagon from Missouri to California. A lovely nuanced story about family, friendship, and whether gold is the key to happiness.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Valley

Based on true events, this is an easy-reader version of the story of Snowshoe Thompson, a courageous mail carrier who traveled along through Nevada’s treacherous Sierra Madres Mountains.

Buy it through my Amazon affilaite link: Snowshoe Thompson

Ralph Moody’s Little Britches is a timeless classic about life on a Colorado ranch with its breathtaking beauty and backbreaking hardships.

Buy it through my Amazon affiilate link: Little Britches

Wander through the wilds of Wyoming with Peter Lundy, a boy who loves a horse more than anything. Learn about the rare medicine hat pattern, mustangs, and life on the rough western prairie in this horse novel from acclaimed American author Marguerite Henry.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion

Explore the western United States including Montana, Idaho, and Oregon with this amazing living history book that brings Lewis and Clark’s Expedition to life.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Seaman

Visit the Fellows family in the deserts of Oregon where homesteading is not for the faint of heart.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Year of the Black Pony


“The Ark” and “Rowan Farm” Review

the ark by margot benary isbert cover

Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees

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

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

The Ark

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

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

Rowan Farm

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

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

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

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

Clean and Charming

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

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

“Blessed Carlo Acutis” Review

book cover blessed carlo acutis

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

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

A Saint for 21st Century Kids

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

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

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

Who Will Enjoy This Book?

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

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

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

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

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

“How the Angels Got Their Wings” Review

How the Angels Got Their Wings, cover

Gorgeous and Grace-Filled!

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

An Exciting Drama

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

Find Out More

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

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

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

Love beautiful Catholic picture books?

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

BritNotes on Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

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

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

Why murder mysteries, you may ask?

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

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

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

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

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries equally well crafted?

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

Are all Agatha Christie mysteries clean?

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

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

IMPORTANT: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

The Body in the Library

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

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

Affiliate link: The Body in the Library

Cards on the Table

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

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

Affiliate link: Cards on the Table


The Clocks

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: The Clocks

Crooked House

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Crooked House

Death on the Nile

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

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

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile


Dumb Witness

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

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

Affiliate link: Dumb Witness

Elephants Remember

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Elephants Remember

Endless Night

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Endless Night

Five Little Pigs

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

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

Affiliate link: Five little pigs

The Moving Finger

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

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

Affiliate link: The Moving Finger

The Murder at the Vicarage

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

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

Affiliate link: The Murder at the Vicarage

A Murder is Announced

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: A Murder is Announced

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

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

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

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

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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

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

Affiliate link: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Peril at End House

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Peril at End House

A Pocketful of Rye

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

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

Affiliate link: A Pocketful of Rye

Postern of Fate

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

Parents will want to know: no content.

Amazon affiliate link: Postern of Fate

The Secret Adversary

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

Parents want to know about: mild suspense and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Adversary

Sparkling Cyanide

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

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

Amazon affiliate link: Sparkling Cyanide

They Do It With Mirrors

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

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

Affiliate link: They Do It With Mirrors

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

white and brown animals near fence

Homesteading Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wood landscape water summer

BritNotes on Jane Austen

Catholic Book Review of Jane Austen

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

Sense and Sensibility

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

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

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Sense and Sensibility

Buy through my Good News Book Shop link: Sense and Sensibility

Pride and Prejudice

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

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

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

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Pride and Prejudice

Buy through my Good News Book Shop link: Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

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

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

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Mansfield Park

Emma

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

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

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Emma

Buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: Emma

Persuasion

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

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

Content: an implied affair.

Recommended reading level: high school and older.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Persuasion

Northanger Abbey

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

Content: none that I can find.

Recommended reading age: high school and older

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Annotated Northanger Abbey

happy ethnic children lying on bed

Classic Chapter Books that are Funny!

My 9 year old was laughing so hard the other night over a book that he woke up his youngest sister. He just loves a laugh out loud funny book, and I bet he isn’t the only one! Depending on who you ask, laughter keeps us sane, is good medicine, and makes life worth living.

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery

It’s Robert Frost who said laughter keeps us sane by the way. And Byron says it’s cheap medicine.

Anyway, here’s a list of the funniest chapter books for 8-12 year old middle grade readers.

Homer Price captures bank robbers- with a little help from his pet skunk Aroma. He watches the donut shop for his uncle- and ends up making thousands of donuts. Robert McCloskey’s wry illustrations help make this comic classic memorable. Our world is so much more complicated, but kids still laugh about Homer Price’s small-town escapades.

Speaking of McCloskey, he also illustrated Henry Reed, Inc.. Diplomat’s kid Henry Reed speaks several languages and has traveled the world, but knows very little about America. He returns to spend the summer in suburbia at Grover’s Corner and mayhem ensues. We love all the other books in the series: Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service, Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry Reed’s Big Show, and Henry Reed’s Think Tank.

Tom Sawyer: American legend. Kids would have to read this book anyway for cultural literacy, but it’s so funny they read it voluntarily. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer still have charm.

Life is an adventure on McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm where beanstalks grow sky high overnight. Sid Fleischman tells original American tall tales about a large family on a miraculously productive farm.

Good Old Archibald is a vintage schoolboy story of accepting differences and forging friendships through sports and pranks. Reprinted and available from Bethlehem Books.

My kids loved and laughed at Owls in the Family from about age 3 onwards. It’s got that universal appeal that makes all ages laugh out loud. Farley Mowat humorously recounts his childhood complete with a menagerie of pets including two Great Horned Owls that thought they were human.

In The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, you get a three books in one volume! This illustrated edition of the beloved Pippi stories brings the irrepressible red-head to life for today’s kids.

Speaking of today’s kids, Adventures with Waffles is a modern day Scandinavian author’s Pippi-inspired comedy story. You can read my in-depth review here: “Adventures with Waffles” Review.

Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series follows sibling groups on unlikely magical escapades usually with a twist. Like in Half Magic the children find a magic charm that gives them get exactly half of whatever they wish. Of course general hilarity ensues and they learn the hard way to be careful what they wish for!

The “magic” in Eager’s books is in the the Nesbit tradition: fairy-tale like magic that just happens to everyday people. The children are not trying to be witches or wizards. The magic happens through a toad that grants wishes in one book, a magic penny in another.

The Mad Scientists’ Club is vintage boys’ fiction with lots of science, pranks, and brainy kids saving the day. Overall I recommend these books for older middle grade readers with a few reservations. Things I don’t like: outsmarting domineering adults such as the Mad Scientists’ archenemy the mayor of the town is a common part of this collection of stories. There’s also some “fibbing” and disobedience to parents without real consequences.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of positive themes about loyalty, friendship, problem-solving, and good clean fun. It’s quite funny and will inspire kids to explore and delve deep into STEM. This review from First Things captures the positives and negatives of the series well.