“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.

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!

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

Let’s start with the novel that just came out as a major film in theaters this year. 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 sexual content in the book, be aware that the new 2022 movie does include some content.

Amazon affiliate link: Death on the Nile

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

A Murder is Announced

A dinner party invitation in a small English village announces a murder. 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

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

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

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Persuasion

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

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

Content: an implied affair.

Recommended reading level: high school and older.

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.

BritNotes on Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, 1902-1968, was a famous American writer and Nobel Prize winner for his work in literature.

Today I’ll fill you in as concisely as possible on what a parent wants to know about some of his more popular novels.

Of Mice and Men

Two men, drifting cowboys, one of them mentally handicapped. Friends with a dream. It sounds sort of sweet, but this is a brutal book to read. When the mentally handicapped giant can’t control his strength and keeps killing animals, then people, what should his friend do?

Steinbeck raises some good questions about racism, mental illness, culpability, and justice. But he also creates a scenario where euthanasia seems like the best option. Of course as Catholics, we believe that euthanasia is never the right answer to dealing with mental illness or any other human failing. But in Of Mice and Men it’s hard to come up with a different solution for the situation Steinbeck creates.

This is difficult moral ground for high schoolers to think through. So if your high schooler is assigned Of Mice and Men, be prepared to discuss euthanasia- and why it’s never the right solution. Also be advised that Of Mice and Men is heavy on the language with almost daily instances of swearing and cursing. There’s also a sexually promiscuous female character who is married but trying to seduce the single cowboys. No sex scenes or graphic violence.

The Pearl

The Pearl is the Steinbeck gem I think should be assigned in high school. This is an equally thought-provoking story of similar short length as Of Mice and Men. But without the language and super hopeless theme. In The Pearl, a poor but happy couple finds a rare pearl and vistas of wealth and social ascension rise before their naïve eyes. But what will they have to sacrifice as they pursue a better life for their son? Themes about greed, poverty, peace, happiness, and human nature predominate.

Unlike other Steinbeck books, there is no sexual content or language. There is some violence though: domestic, shootings, and the death of an infant.

East of Eden

My favorite Steinbeck, but not an easy book on multiple levels. East of Eden is very long: a saga of several generations. Steinbeck called East of Eden “THE book” and his best work. Allegorical at many places, East of Eden explores Biblical themes and tropes against the breathtaking beauty and daunting hardship of life in the Salinas Valley of California. With characters as unforgettable as a Dickens cast and themes that keep you up thinking at night, East of Eden is one of those books you should read in your lifetime if you possibly can.

But not at 12. Or 14. Or 16.

East of Eden has some monsters, as Steinbeck labels them. One is Cathy, a prostitute who takes pleasure in shocking others with her coarseness and committing the most offensive acts possible. Steinbeck intends to shock the reader with her evil so there’s some dwelling on the details of prostitution. Other plot points include adultery and fornication. For most teens from fairly sheltered backgrounds, East of Eden‘s sexual content would probably shock so much it would overshadow the great themes this book really explores.

In re other parental concerns, there’s some language, some violence, but nothing too graphic. There’s quite a lot of questioning of God: his existence, his goodness, his love. There’s also an overall disparaging of organized religion as a path to heaven or true happiness.

But to end on a positive note here: a big theme in East of Eden is facing reality. Two sets of brothers a generation apart each are faced with the reality of sin and darkness in human hearts. Do they pretend, avoid, shun, accept, participate? This is a novel about blindness and sight, the existence of free will, and the power of our choices.

Thou Mayest Choose

three beige gift boxes

Book Lovers’ Christmas Gift Guide 2021

Give someone you love the gift of getting lost in a good story this Christmas!

What’s better than a book for Christmas? It doesn’t take up much space, is easy to mail, and gives the gift of an experience without leaving the comfort of your home! Find picture books, chapter books, picks for teens, and even the adult who won’t read on your list here this year!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy through my link I recieve a small fee at no additional cost to you.

Beautiful picture books to treasure

Swedish author Elsa Beskow’s beautifully illustrated picture books are favorites at our house. In Peter’s Old House, a community comes together to help renovate an old neighbor’s house.

Or if you’re looking for a classic fairy tale gift, Beskow’s rendition of Thumbelina may be the perfect fit.

Classic Picture Books that no one knows about

Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka are three sisters who always dress the same. In Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Bake a Cake, they learn how to make the perfect cake for their mothers’ birthday. This vintage series of charming stories about three sisters is over 100 years old, but back in print in collectible hardcover editions at a reasonable price! Only $10 a book!

Have little boys? No worries, there’s a brother series about three little boys named Snipp, Snapp, Snurr that is equally charming! (Note that these are only available in paperback that I could find).

For the Little Girl in Your Life

Have a 3-6 year old girl in your life? She’s sure to love The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. These simple and sweet stories about a little girl’s small everyday village adventures will charm you. Plenty of illustrations and short chapters help hold interest making this a great first chapter book.

For the small boy with the heart for big adventure

Tall tales are always a hit with the 4-6 year old boy crowd. Try Steven Kellog’s renditions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Pecos Bill with their detailed illustrations.

Or for a really unique and neat gift, give this little-known classic story from Virginia Lee Burton: Calico the Wonder Horse: Christmas Gift Edition. Calico is a smart ranch horse who saves the day when Stewy Stinker and his Bad Men come to town to try to steal Christmas.

For the elementary schoolers in your life

This interactive edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is amazingly detailed! Tons of illustrations and even movable elements. Watch the Cheshire Cat appear and disappear, help Alice get bigger and smaller, and more. Hardcover quality edition at a very good price!

Or for the adventurous child, you can’t go wrong with this beautiful hardcover illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Again, quality illustrations, paper quality, and binding make this a great gift edition of a beloved classic.

For your godchild, niece or nephew, or child who loves audiobooks

My kids will listen to Glory Stories on repeat if I let them! These full cast productions bring the saint to life in a vivid and memorable way. There’s a nice variety of Saint Stories to choose from, ancient to modern. My kids’ current favorite is the newly released story of Blessed Carlo Acutis, available from publisher Holy Heroes.

The book that every teen should read

Even middle schoolers can understand the message in Animal Farm, George Orwell’s classic dystopian allegory about the dangers of Communism.

For the teen who enjoys historical fiction

I really enjoyed Sword and Serpent, the first in a Catholic historical fiction series which imagines the lives of St. George, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, St. Blaise, and other early saints.

For the teen who loves fantasy and fairy tales

Shannon Hale’s rendition of the fairy tale The Goose Girl is masterfully done! A little romance, a lot of adventure, and great themes about friendship and courage make this a great teen novel.

For the teen who’s ready for a classic mystery

I’ve gotten the question of which Agatha Christie to start a teen on a few times. You can’t go wrong with The Secret Adversary, Crooked House, or Murder on the Orient Express. (Note that some Agatha Christie books mentions adulterous relationships as a plot point but there is never any sexual content.)

For that teen or adult who won’t read a book

What about Andy Serkis’s amazing new performance of the Lord of the Rings? An unabridged reading by the man who voiced Gollum- what could be better!? Audio Books still count as books!

For the adult story lover on your list

Reading Piranesi was a highlight in my 2021 Literary Adventures. This thought-provoking story inspired by The Magician’s Nephew brings together mystery, art, philosophy, and suspense into a unique and gripping plot. My full Review of “Piranesi” is up on the blog.

For the adult who loves the classics and beautiful editions

Check out the beautiful editions at The Folio Society! Most book lovers would drool over these gorgeous illustrated copies of favorites like Around the World in 80 Days, Austen’s books, the Bronte classics, or The Wind in the Willows.

Image of Around the World in Eighty Days book

For that person who likes looooonnnngggg (and amazing!) books

I’ve read pretty much everything Michael O’Brien has written. The Island of the World is my favorite. So if you need a tome for someone like me who thinks 1000+ pages is a positive, then you’ve found the perfect reflection on art, love, and the power of suffering.

For the Mystery Lover

For those who love classic mysteries but have read all the greats like Sayers and Christie and Allingham, Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a contemporary mystery in the classic tradition. Full review up on the blog here.

For the adult who loves historical fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow is one of those books that draws you right back into a particular time period and way of life. Aristocrat Alexi is sentenced to lifelong house arrest in the attic of the Grand Hotel in Moscow as the Communists take over Russia. How does the last Gentleman remaining in Moscow maintain sanity, find community, and even thrive over the next decades?

For more ideas, check out my 2020 Christmas book guide!

Looking for books ABOUT Christmas?

Check out my Christmas book round up: Good Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

Catholic Board Books for Catholic Toddlers

There’s been an explosion of board books written just for Catholic toddlers in the last few years. From mini Catechisms to Mass books, there’s a board book for that now!

This is so exciting to see! How wonderful to be able to share the treasures of our faith with the littlest Catholics in an age appropriate (and rip-proof) way!

If you’re a godmother looking for a Baptismal gift, or a godparent looking for a Christmas present, or a mom looking for a stocking stuffer, these books will be perfect!

Bible Stories & Verses

Wow! These gorgeous board books from St. Augustine Academy Press are eye-catchers. The lithographs are based on Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s 1860 Bible in Pictures. The idea here is that even if the child is too young to listen to the full text of a Bible story, they can learn the gist of it from these detailed pictures.

Buy it directly from the publisher: St. Augustine Academy Press

Read your child some of the simplest and most comforting Scripture verses in The Word of the Lord. These are great first memory verses!

Buy it through my Amazon Affiliate link: The Word of the Lord: A Child’s First Scripture Verses

Or buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: The Word of the Lord

Catholic Catechism Board Books

Katie Warner brings you the shortest and sweetest Catechism of all. Simple one line affirmations encourage the littlest toddlers to learn basic truths such as “God made you and rejoices in you.”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Kiddie Cat: A Child’s First Catechism Lesson

Or buy it through Good New Book Shop: Kiddie Cat

Looking for a little more depth but still a simple presentation? Check out the Teeny Tiny Theology series. These four books provide an introduction to Christology (the study of Jesus Christ and his role in salvation) the Trinity and more!

Buy them through my Amazon affiliate links: Teeny Tiny Theology: Christology

Teeny Tiny Theology: The Trinity

Teeny Tiny Theology: Salvation History

Teeny Tiny Theology: Sacred Scripture

Cute illustrations in these Little Books for Catholic Kids. Books on the Corporal Works of Mercy, Spiritual Works of Mercy, Prayer, Angels, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Aquinas Kids Little Books for Catholic Kids Box Set

Christmas Board Books

I’ve always loved reading this rhythmic, soothing board book to my babies at Christmas time. Captures the spirit of preparing and waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Christmas very well.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Who is Coming to Our House?

Christmas in the Manger is a simple explanation of Christmas symbols for the littlest children.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Christmas in the Manger

The Story of Christmas is a slightly longer board book that explains the true meaning of Christmas in a way that helps toddlers understand it’s not just all about the presents!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Story of Christmas

Saints Board Books

This isn’t just a book of saint stories. It’s a book of advice from the saints! Read your child words of wisdom from some of the greatest saints such as St. Padre Pio’s “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry!”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints

Or buy it through Good News Book Shop: Cloud of Witnesses

In this board book, Catholic toddlers become familiar with the apparitions of Fatima and Guadalupe, Our Lord’s appearances to St. Faustina, and the Annunciation.

Buy it through the publisher: Holy Heroes

The Mass

Sturdy and durable, this board book is the best Mass book for toddlers I’ve found. Written by a Catholic Mom, it includes I spy, match the vestments, lift the flaps at the end of each part of the Liturgy of the Word, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: My First Interactive Mass Book

Looking for something a little more advanced? Check out my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners