“Adventures with Waffles” Review

"Adventures with Waffles" paperback cover

Adventures with Waffles

This little gem of a chapter book has been around for 15 years, but is newish to Americans. Norwegian author Maria Parr must have channeled Astrid Lindgren (you know, Pippi Longstocking?) to create the memorable duo in Adventures with Waffles. Beautiful Norway is the stunning backdrop to this memorable story about childhood friendship, family camaraderie, and overcoming loss.

Enter a remote Scandinavian village

It isn’t even a village. Just a few houses tucked in a remote cove. 8 year old friends Trille and Lena have to make their excitement and they do: boatloads of it! You’ll be charmed by sweet Trille’s narration of life in his hamlet, his love for his family, and his loyalty to his difficult best friend. From sledding in winter to bonfires in summer, the neighbors in this wintery wonderland enjoy everyday life.

Pro-Family

I loved the fact that Trille has an intact family with parents who love each other. He has three siblings, one of whom is adopted and comfortable with that. He lives in an intergenerational household; his grandfather has a flat in their basement and Trille loves having him there.

On the other hand, Lena lives with her single mother. She’s okay with this at first, but eventually begins to ask why she doesn’t have a father. In one of their notorious escapades, Lena and Trille decide to advertise and find a fitting father, confidently assuming her mother will be thrilled. While celebrating hardworking single parents, Adventures with Waffles conveys the intrinsic desire children have for both a mother and a father. It’s an affirmation of the importance of fathers! Now that is something you rarely see in a new children’s book!

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Adventures with Waffles isn’t all butterflies and daisies. Trille’s beloved waffle-making Auntie Granny dies midway through the book. Subtly but unmistakably Trille watches his family deal with the grief in their various ways. And he too has to come to terms with loss- and find ways to reawaken hope.

Trille and Lena also experience smaller losses and traumas: a horse they love is sent to the butcher and they scramble to save it. A fire threatens to destroy the family barn and animals. A bad sledding accident lands them in the hospital for a bit. In fact, they manage to crowd an inordinate number of misadventures into 230 pages! There’s no graphic violence though so all but the most sensitive readers shouldn’t be bothered.

Parental Warnings

Although I loved this book overall, I had two caveats when I went over my reading notes.

First, there’s a tiny bit of cruder humor at times, along the lines of putting out a bonfire with cow manure. Or a child making up a rhyme about moo and poo rhyming. I think it’s supposed to reflect that these are farm children used to the nitty gritty parts of farm life, so it didn’t bother me in this particular book. But just in case, note it’s there.

Second, there’s a little confusion about whether lying is always wrong. Some of this is a translation issue. I’m fairly certain that when the characters talk about “what good lies” someone tells in reference to tall tales, the translation should have been “what good stories” or “what good tales.”

Later on, there is a “ends justify means” message about lying. Trille, Lena, and his grandfather tell a string of lies to expedite their rescue of the aforementioned horse destined for the slaughter house. Trille is shocked by all the lying and his grandfather tells him, “Sometimes it’s all right to tell white lies, Trille.” I didn’t love this scenario in a book meant for 8-10 year olds. I would handle it with a discussion about how it lines up with what we believe as Catholics and how else the characters might have better handled the scenario.

Religion

Although most of the characters in this book are areligious, there’s a motif about a picture of Jesus. Trille’s Auntie Granny keeps a special picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd to remind her not to worry: he’s in control. After her death, Trille is allowed to pick anything from her entire house to keep for his very own. He chooses the special picture. Thenceforth, it’s a source of comfort to both him and Lena: a reminder that someone is watching over them. Kind of neat to see this in a secular book!

If you want to buy Adventures with Waffles, you can support Good Books for Catholic Kids by buying through my Amazon affiliate link: Adventures with Waffles

Or, you can buy through my Bookshop.org page: Adventures with Waffles on my Book Review List

For more of my favorite books for middle grade readers, check out My Book Lists, especially:

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“Heaven’s Hunter” Review

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“Heaven’s Hunter”

Star Wars meets Catholic apologetics in Heaven’s Hunter. In this literary debut from Marie Keiser, a young man comes of age in a futuristic world where interplanetary travel is the norm. Born to wealth and privilege, Randall Yung walks away from it all to pursue justice with the interplanetary fleet hunting down the worst criminals of all: the Catholics.

Catholic Apologetics meets Interplanetary Travel

If you have a teen who likes sci fi and the Catholic faith, Heaven’s Hunter will be a hit. Starting from the perspective of an atheist, Marie Keiser leads her protagonist on a rambling interplanetary quest for truth. Randall Yung is a seeker: he desires deeper meaning in life. At first he thinks he’s found it by infiltrating and betraying underground Catholic communities. But the more time he spends with the Catholics, the less certain he becomes that they are a threat to humanity.

Teens will enjoy this twisty tale. Seeing the Catholic faith from the outsider perspective is a valuable tool. It helps us rediscover our own love and appreciation for just how radically, beautifully unique our faith is.

Another important take-away that this book will give teens is that often the most important apologetics is simply our good example. What impacts atheist Randall is the kindness and mercy he experiences from the people he is hunting a la St. Paul.

Content?

Nope! This is a squeaky clean novel from a Catholic author. There’s a touch of mild romance, very clean. No language. There’s a little violence, but nothing too graphic. One major character gives his life for another.

A Commendable First Novel

Overall, Heaven’s Hunter is a worthwhile novel for lovers of space fiction. Like many first novels, there were places where the pacing stumbled. I’d like to see more world-development and detail added if future books are written to make this a series. But as it is, it’s a quick and enjoyable read with great theme about loving your enemy, forgiveness, persecution, and being a witness.

You can buy Heaven’s Hunter through my Amazon affiliate link: Heaven’s Hunter.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Heaven’s Hunter” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “And To Think I Saw It On MLK Street”

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And To Think I Saw It On MLK Street

If you’ve followed the news about the politically-motivated censoring of several Seuss books, you’ll know why the author of this recently published book went with a Seuss theme. This book uses Seuss’s distinctive style, color scheme, and rhythmic text to create a thought-provoking commentary on what the last couple years may have done to American children.

A young boy is scared to walk to school because he is convinced that everyone is out to hurt him. This poor kid is scared of touching people, the police, anyone with religious beliefs, and so on. But by the time he gets to school, he has to admit that he is safe and no one he met was truly scary.

As you might have figured out by now, this book comes from a staunchly conservative perspective on current events. I consider it a clever and well-executed commentary that will amuse adults and older kids who are politically savvy- and conservative. I do think the political commentary would go over the heads of the 3-5 year old crowd who usually enjoy Seuss. My 4 year old definitely did not “get” what was going on with the little boy being unreasonably paranoid about everyone he met.

I think And to Think I Saw It on MLK Street makes an excellent gift for a conservative older kid or adult who will enjoy the Seuss nostalgia and message. But if you are of more liberal inclinations, this book isn’t for you, unless you have an excellent sense of humor. The message is pro-police, pro-religion, and pro-life.

You can buy And to Think I Saw It on MLK Street through my affiliate link: And to Think I Saw it on MLK Street

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of “And to Think I Saw It on MLK Street” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Check out my favorite easy readers for young kids here: Good Easy Readers for Catholic Kids

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Review of “Jesus Had A Body Like Me”

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“A Theology of the Body for Babies and Little Ones”

If you love John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, this little book is a great introduction for the very littlest Catholic kids. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers will enjoy the simple text that teaches important concepts about personhood in very few sentences. Little ones will hear: who made them, what their bodies are for, how they are like Jesus, and what the ultimate end of life is. These concepts form the basis for an understanding of authentic Christian Humanism. It’s great to find them in such a simple form for the littlest listeners.

In addition to awesome Theology of the Body concepts, your child can enjoy playing “I Spy” for the Lily of the Valley hidden on each page. The Lily of the Valley is a traditional Marian symbol.

Author Caroline Fisher tells me that she has a second Theology of the Body-inspired book for slightly older kids (5-8 year old crowd) with more realistic pictures coming out soon. I’m super excited to see what she creates! Keep up the good work Caroline!

A percentage of all sales for this book are donated to the Sisters of Life.

Buy it through my amazon affiliate link: Jesus Had a Body Like Me: A Theology of the Body for Babies and Little Ones

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Jesus Had a Body Like Me: A Theology of the Body for Babies and Little Ones” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite books for little Catholic kids, check out my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners .

For more of my favorite Theology of the Body resources check out: Great Books about Sexual Education and Theology of the Body for Catholic Parents

Review of “Piranesi”

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Piranesi

I’ve ragged on a few New York Times Bestseller’s recently, so I wanted to share one I did love. Piranesi is that rare contemporary book I can wholeheartedly recommend to all my friends with no reservations. It’s well-written, superbly plotted, and has just the right amount of nods to the classics without coming across as trying too hard. Probably I mostly like it because the author is clearly playing with a Magician’s Nephew theme and you all may have noticed that I’ve never outgrown my childhood love of Narnia.

For the Moms

To be clear, this book is for you, mom, not your kids. Well, if you have a high schooler they might like it too, but mostly I’m thinking of moms here. If you love fantasy, or mystery, or art, or fairy tales, or books about social issues, you’ll probably enjoy this book. That’s a pretty eclectic list, I know, but this is a book that keeps you guessing. It defies categorization. I was telling a friend, “It’s like a mystery… noooo, more of a suspense…. no, actually, more fantasy. You just have to read it.”

Piranesi plays with contrasts: ancient versus modern consciousness, freedom versus bondage, contemplation versus action. There’s a compelling sense of place. A touch of art history. It deals with important topics like misuse of power, but in the most powerful way: through the story. It’s that rare book with great depths to ponder, but you read it in 24 hours. Then, if you’re me, you re-read it.

I really don’t want to give away any spoilers, but here’s a few tips on how to read it. First, this book is all told in diary form by an unreliable narrator (echoes of Wilkie Collins). Second, it helps to have read The Magician’s Nephew recently. Third, enjoy the mystery of it and don’t get turned off by the intentional strangeness of the first few chapters!

You can buy Piranesi through my Amazon affiliate link: Piranesi

Or through my Bookshop page: Book Review Book

For more of my favorite books for adults, check out my section For Catholic Parents.

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Review of “Circe”

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A Modern Classic?

Greek Mythology wrapped in modern language and agenda anyone? Some are calling this bestseller a modern classic. I’ve always been enthralled by mythology so I eagerly read Circe by Madeline Miller. Miller retells the story of the minor goddess Circe, but so much more. In these pages you learn about Scylla, Odysseus, Helios’ family life, and what happened to Penelope after the Odyssey. A lot of readers I respect loved this retelling. And I see why: it’s reasonably well written and has a unique focus on the Titans as opposed to the usual Olympians. But I have to confess: in the end I disliked this book.

The Telegony

We all know The Iliad and The Odyssey. There’s another epic, NOT by Homer, that purports to continue the story of Odysseus. The origins of this epic, called the Telegonia (Telegony) are controversial. The best guess seems to be that it was written at least 2 centuries after The Odyssey. The text of the Telegony is lost, but a synopsis remains. And I, among others, consider it to sound like mediocre fan fiction based on The Odyssey.

Have you ever tried a sequel to a classic, written after the authors’ death? Aren’t they always and universally disappointing? That’s how I imagine the Greeks must have viewed the Telegony: a disappointing sequel centuries after the death of Homer.

Unfortunately, Miller draws heavily on the plot of the Telegony to inform the storyline of Circe. Why does this matter? Well, did you like Telemachus and admire Penelope in The Odyssey? You may not after Circe. Adding onto the plot in the Telegony that Odysseus had an illegitimate son by the nymph Circe, Miller imagines the fallout. Penelope ends up a manipulative witch. Telemachus falls in love with his father’s mistress who gave birth to his half brother already. Weird, right?

Witchcraft

Catholic opinions diverge dramatically when it comes to comfort level with reading books about “good” witches and wizards. I believe you have to take books on a case by case basis. Listen to what each individual author is trying to tell or show. In Circe, Circe and her 3 siblings discover a predilection for witchcraft, which in this book means using herbs and spells to do things like raise the dead, make transformations, and so forth.

Early in the book, Circe explains her love of witchcraft as a love of power. She says learning witchcraft was hard work, but she desired the power it gave her. “I learned that I could bend the world to my will, as a bow is bent for an arrow. I would have done that toil a thousand times to keep such power in my hands.” Circe’s siblings, and even Circe herself, often use their witchcraft for evil ends. But I consider Circe to take an ambiguous stance on witchcraft. Miller takes the position that there’s nothing inherently good or evil about spells and potions; the will, end, and intentions of the witch determine the morality of the action. This, of course, is in direct contradiction to the Biblically-derived zero tolerance for witchcraft policy that we must abide to as Christians.

Intentional Feminist Agenda

At the end of my copy of Circe, there’s an interview with Madeline Miller in which she states that she intentionally wrote the book to push a feminist agenda. Ouch. We can all grant that the ancient world often undervalued and marginalized women. But twisting ancient myths to suit your 21st century agenda is not going to win my approval, ever.

Miller thinks that as a culture we distrust “powerful women.” In Circe, she seeks to destigmatize them. I’ll admit I didn’t think this book actually helped that case. The female goddesses are terrible. Penelope is portrayed as incredibly manipulative. Circe herself misuses her power fairly often, though she later tries to fix some of the damage she does. There’s that typical root misunderstanding of what true feminism means.

Of gods and men

A big theme over the course of the book is the difference between the gods and mankind. The pagan gods are cruel, selfish, merciless, and proud. Most of the humans in the book don’t seem particularly virtuous either: the lustful sailors, manipulate Odysseus, unfaithful Glaucos, and so on. But Circe envies them for their ability to change and die. In the last few lines of the story, she says “I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.” She then chooses to become a mortal.

On the one hand, this was a superbly plotted ending if you grant her point. Throughout the book, Circe has gradually changed, moving towards unselfishness and forgiveness. She’s changed so much she is no longer a god, but a mortal who can die.

But on the other hand, I didn’t agree with the equation she writes for us: divinity = unchanging = unmerciful/unloving/bad. It doesn’t follow or flow, at least to my Catholic mind. I have no idea if Miller is pushing an atheist agenda in addition to a feminist one, or simply trying to justify her ending.

Better Greek Mythology

This section contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small fee if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

What do I like better if you do want to familiarize yourself with Greek Mythology? For adults who don’t mind a little British humor, Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes are superbly done. If you have teens, try Padraic Colum’s retellings: The Children’s Homer and The Golden Fleece. For kids, I like D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys.

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Review of “Code Name Verity”

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Against all odds, I appreciated this book. I was so skeptical when I picked it up. The label #1 New York Times Bestseller doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence these days. And the cover design on the hardcover copy I borrowed from the library is just plain creepy (read to the end to see the said creepy cover). Also, I tend to dislike 90% of the contemporary titles labeled “Young Adult.” But somehow, I did find this one memorable, although I have some reservations about its suitability for the intended audience.

The Plot in a Nutshell

Two British women from vastly different backgrounds form a close friendship amid the turmoil of World War II. One ends up captured as a spy and interrogated in a Gestapo headquarters. Tortured and broken, she contemplates betraying her country. Meanwhile, her friend is on a mission to blow up the Gestapo headquarters.

This brief synopsis doesn’t capture the superb plotting and alternating voices that make this book memorable.

However

This book is brutal. The Gestapo were notorious for the horrors they inflicted on prisoners, so it’s accurate. But it’s tough reading. Even as an adult, it was upsetting to read about the torture scenes. Images like pins being stuck into a woman’s breasts stick with you. You understand why a prisoner might break and betray secrets.

There’s also a lot of violence. Again, this is realistic for the setting in occupied France. Pilots die in crashes. Resistance fighters die from gun shots. The Nazis kill and torture many prisoners. They guillotine a teenage girl and make another girl stand close enough to be soaked in her blood. In a finale gun battle, they shoot off two prisoners for every Nazi soldier shot. Later, they deliberately kill prisoners slowly, shooting one joint at a time until they black out from pain.

In terms of other content, there’s a good bit of sexual references, though no explicit sexual content. At one point, one of the main characters lets herself be groped in exchange for a stack of paper. At another point, the other main character complains about a resistance member who a “lech” and keeps trying to touch women inappropriately. There’s a mention of rape.

When it comes to language, there’s a decent amount, ranging from b__ch to f__k. I would say this book somewhat glorifies cursing. One of the main characters “curses like a sailor” and the other admires her boldness.

True to the time period, most characters smoke cigarettes constantly. There’s also some alcohol use.

The Big Problem Morally

The most morally problematic part of this book is the concluding crisis. The captured character is on her way to be tortured and killed painfully by the Nazis. She sees her friend and begs her in a private code phrase to shoot her now to avoid the slow and painful death the Nazis have planned for her. And the friend with the gun does kill her. To make it worse, all the authority figures in the book tell the shooter she did the right thing to “save” her friend from a painful death. Obviously this opens up a whole can of worms morally in terms of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and so forth.

Parents Be Forewarned

So there you have all the nitty gritty about why you might hesitate to hand Code Name Verity to your teen. For younger teens, sensitive teens, or if you just want to keep your kids innocent longer, skip this one. For older mature teens who are ready for a look at the sheer horror of life for a captured spy in World War II, this book paints a powerful picture. But be prepared to have a thorough discussion about the morality of killing someone to save them from suffering further.

Interested in other chapter books about World War II?

Check out my World War II list for younger teens: World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids

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Review of “Mr. Blue”

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Mr. Blue

Who is Mr. Blue? A modern day saint? A communist? A lunatic? A practical businessman encounters the charismatic Blue and is confounded. Fascinated and repulsed all at once, the businessman compiles a book of his own impressions, interviews with others who have known Blue, and letters.

So who is Mr. Blue? At times, an affluent gentleman who buys houses and fills them with decrepit servants. Other times, a young man with a brilliant smile, dressed in burlap sacks and living in a packing crate. A daredevil flying a kite on the precipice of a 30 story building. A philosopher. A film writer.

In each incarnation of Blue, you glimpse some of the fierce joy that makes him special.

Joy and Wonder

I love Mr. Blue for the same reason I love G. K. Chesterton’s fiction and Gerald Manley Hopkin’s poetry. These modern day mystics had a sacramental view of creation, a childlike sense of wonder, and find a passionate joy in the simple process of everyday life. Although in some ways a book about a very different type of wonder- for the ingenuity and life of a city versus the beauty of nature- Mr. Blue firmly falls into the category of books which reawaken our appreciation for seeing the true, good, and beautiful in our daily life. As a deeply Catholic book, Mr. Blue also reminds us about the wonders of Catholicism.

The Movie Script

The author Myles Connolly was actually a screenwriter for many years. Inside the story of Mr. Blue, Connolly tucks in the plot for a movie Blue wants to make. It’s a dystopian film, a singularly hopeless flight of fancy for such a enthusiastic and joyful character as Blue. A one world government has decimated and subjugated the population. Christianity has been intentionally extinguished. In the end, the last Christian on earth, a priest, manages to grow a few grains of wheat and offer one last Mass as a the world ends and Christ comes in glory.

Does the secret to Blue’s intentional joy lie in this rather dark imagining? Perhaps. Connolly paints Blue as a young man with a dark past, perhaps a man who once lived in the depths of depression or pessimism. But now, Blue intentionally eschews worldly values and lives for poverty and the simple joys of life.

Great for Teens and Adults

This is a book that teens tend to connect with. Blue’s passion and idealism inspires and engages teenagers. I recommend reading Mr. Blue in the high school years, perhaps as part of an American literature year. Adults also find Mr. Blue rather fascinating. Like the first person narrator, we pause and wonder at this St. Francis like modern city man with a heart for the poor and a passion for Christ.

You can buy this book through my amazon affiliate link: Mr. Blue

To see more of my favorite books for Catholic high schoolers and adults, check out my book lists, especially:

Review of “Portrait of the Son”

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A new book from Josephine Nobisso!

Is anyone else a huge fan of of Josephine Nobisso’s The Weight of a Mass and Take it to the Queen? These gorgeous books combine luminous illustrations with fantastic stories in a truly transcendent experience. I’ve been waiting for years for her to add to this series of allegories and it’s finally happening!

Portrait of the Son

In her new book Portrait of the Son, Josephine Nobisso tells a story about charity: love. It’s a variation on an allegory that’s been told many times over the centuries to help us understand a little about the love between the Father and the Son. In the story, an old father and his son live in a world of superlatives. Their great love for each other spills over into helping everyone around them. They create the most amazing art collection in the world, live in the most wonderful house, are kindest to their neighbors, and love each other dearly. When the son dies in the war, what will the father do? To whom will he bequeath his precious art collection?

A Fitting Third Book

The Weight of a Mass reminds us to have faith. Take it to the Queen gives us hope for our fallen world. Now, Portrait of the Son concludes the Theological Virtues Trilogy with an allegory about true charity. I was disappointed at first to see a new illustrator, but then was impressed how the continuity of the illustrations was maintained. Illustrator Ted Schluenderfritz really did a fantastic job keeping the style of the luminous watercolor illustrations in the first two books. Parents will appreciate the extensive symbolism used throughout Portrait of the Son. See how much symbolism you notice, then turn to the beginning and end of the book for a full explanation.

Portrait of the Son is being released November 2021! It would be a great Christmas present or addition to your family library.

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link: Portrait of the Son: A Tale of Love

Or, buy it through my Bookshop Page: https://bookshop.org/lists/book-review-books

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Portrait of the Son” from Gingerbread House Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

See more of my favorite Catholic picture books on my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners 

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Review of “Saints Around the World”

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Saints Around the World

If you haven’t heard the hype yet, the internet is buzzing about this amazing new book by Meg Hunter-Kilmer! And with good reason! This is hands down the most thorough look at saints from all around the world I’ve ever seen. From Africa to South America to Asia to the Caribbeans, there really are saints from all corners of the world featured in Saints Around the World!

Around the World and Down to Earth

Although this book features Saints from all sorts of cultures and walks of life, the emphasis is on their common humanity. You’ll hear how saints changed diapers, saints gave their grandchildren pony rides, saints did laundry. This is so important for our kids (and us) to understand: the saints were not just great preachers and theologians, they were moms and dads and kids like us!

Broken and Beautiful: The Body of Christ

This book is a celebration of the diversity of the Body of Christ. You’ll read the stories of Saints from Papua New Guineau to Iceland. You’ll learn about Saints in wheel chairs and Saints with birth defects and Saints who were blind. You’ll read about Saints with learning disabilities and speech impediments. You’ll learn about saints with big personalities and saints who were desperately shy. You’ll see Saints from various ethnicities with a great variety of skin tones.

Beautiful Watercolors

To match the beautiful souls described in Saints Around the World, Lindsey Sanders illustrated this book with beautiful watercolor pictures. Many pictures feature everyday items as symbols. This emphasizes the theme that these saints lived seemingly ordinary lives. You may spot a soccer ball, some musical instruments, horses, and more in the background of these illustrations.

You can get a preview of the gorgeous illustrations and read excerpts from the book on the launch site: https://saintsaroundtheworld.com/excerpts/

You can buy Saints Around the World through my Amazon affiliate link: Saints Around the World

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Saints Around the World” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Interested in more of my favorite Catholic books for Catholic Kids? Check out this list: Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners