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Review of “The Mitchells” Series

The Mitchells Five for Victory

A Hilarious Read Aloud

Do you want to enjoy reading aloud to your children but sometimes feel bored with the standard childhood read aloud canon? Check out The Michells series by Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic mom of six. In this semi-autobiographical series, Hilda Van Stockum perfectly captures the love, chaos, and hilarity of family life. It’s the perfect read aloud for parent and kids: the kids love the Mitchell children’s antics, and I laugh out loud in sympathy with the overwhelmed parents.

A Relatable Catholic Family

Any Anne of Green Gables fans out there? Do you remember the notoroious cake story and Anne’s early writing struggles? She only begins to achieve success when she begins writing about what she knows: small town life on the island.

Similarly, Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic convert and mother, writes this absolutely charming series about what she knows: life with half a dozen Catholic children.

The Mitchells aren’t a perfect family. Kids break things, lose their siblings, and lose their tempers. But they take care of each other, they apologize, and they work together to keep the home fires burning during World War II.

The first book, The Mitchells: Five for Victory, has the least overtly Catholic content. But in the second book, Canadian Summer, you will see the family going to great lengths to attend Mass. Actually, Mother’s determination to bring the whole family to Mass despite no car, mud puddles, dusty roads, only two bikes, and runaway dogs is quite touching.

Meet the Mitchells

Joan is the responsible oldest girl who’s determined to keep all the children in line. Patsy is a dreamy artist. Peter’s a sturdy boy who feels responsible for protecting his sisters. Angela has the golden curls and blue eyes of an angel and makes more trouble than a houseful of animals. Timmy is a serious baby who bites everything.

Then there’s Granny, a delightful Dutchwoman who doesn’t let her age keep her from adventure. Mother is, refreshingly, an achingly realistic parent who rushes around distributing love and discipline in equal measures. Last but not least, there’s Father, who leaves to fight in World War II as Five for Victory begins with the parting admonition: “NO PETS!”

Of course, the family somehow ends up with a rabbit, some fish, a parrot, a kitten, a squirrel, and a dog by the last chapter…

Subsequent Books

In Canadian Summer, the Mitchells move to Canada. Housing is difficult to find, so Father optimistically rents a remote ski cabin miles inaccessible by road and without power. Mother is not pleased to put it mildly, but over the course of the summer the Mitchells all learn the grace of having less and make new French Canadian Catholic friends.

The last book, Friendly Gables, picks up years later with the oldest Mitchells children in high school. This one has more focus on school interactions and Joan coming of age so is generally more interesting for the 11+ crowd.

Where can I buy the books?

In addition to being a fantastic read aloud, the Mitchell series is a wonderful choice for a middle grade independent reader.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory and its sequels are kept in print by Catholic publisher Bethlehem Books. You can buy the books on their website. The best time to buy is when they run a 50% off sale, usually in November/December.

You can also buy the books through my affiliate links: Five for Victory, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables.

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Review of “100 Cupboards” Series

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Synopsis

I’ll admit it: I actually enjoyed the 100 Cupboards books. This fast-paced series from N. D. Wilson has some good depth in terms of world-building and some great themes. The adventure begins when nervous, quirky 12 year old Henry discovers a wall of cupboards hidden behind the drywall in his uncle’s attic. With the help of his cousin Henrietta, he learns the secret of traveling to other worlds through the cupboards. In the process, he accidentally frees an evil sorceress, finds the world he came from, and is reunited with his long lost family. In the sequels, Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King, Henry and his family fight the evil sorceress to save their world from destruction. Although I enjoyed this engaging series, I have a few reservations, especially considering the target audience age. This is a series where parents need to check their own comfort level with my “cons” list below.

Pros

One huge positive in 100 Cupboards is the unequivocal good versus evil theme. In a kids’ fantasy series, I appreciate Narnia-esque clear-cut villains. In 100 Cupboards, the antagonist is the terrible sorceress Nimiane. She wants to gain power by draining all living things of life. On the other side, you have Henry’s family trying to stop Nimiane in a desperate bid to save their world and protect their freedom.

My favorite theme in 100 Cupboards is the power of a loving family. Throughout his adventures, Henry is supported and empowered by his parents, aunt, uncles, grandmother, cousins, and siblings. In many ways, this series is a celebration of the special “magic” of a large, loving family network.

Another great theme is growth in virtues, especially courage. Henry is a timid 12 year old at the beginning of the series. His overprotective adoptive parents have kept him in bubble wrap his whole life. He can’t even throw a baseball. As the books progress, Henry grows tremendously in courage, resourcefulness, and unselfishness. He becomes a Christ figure in some ways, showing willingness to risk or lay down his life for his friends and family.

Cons

One negative in 100 Cupboards is the ambivalence about magic. There’s a ton of debate about “magic” in Catholic circles. Some of the arguments I’ve heard about magic include: magic is good, magic is always bad, magic is sometimes bad, magic is ambivalent, magic is from the devil, and magic is a type or use of natural wisdom. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s a clear cut answer to this question; different authors use the word “magic” to mean vastly different things, so really there’s no substitute here for a close reading of individual authors.

In 100 Cupboards, the magic question is far from clear cut, which is one reason I hesitate to hand it to the young audience. In the first book, magic is a dark power used by the witch and her minions. But in subsequent books, magic is also used to mean various things. For example, the word magic is also used for an innate power which Henry and some of his family possess to manipulate natural elements such as plants, wind, and water. And magic is also used to describe the fairen race’s special powers. Overall, this implies that in 100 Cupboards magic can refer to any type of unusual power.

Now here’s the pivotal point: there’s this evil object everyone is looking for in Book 3 since it’s the root source of Nimiane’s power: the Blackstar, an ancient orb which holds imprisoned dark jinns (demons, as far as I can tell). Henry eventually receives the Blackstar as part of a trade and uses it to help defeat the witch Nimiane, drawing strength from it, then hurling it into the witch. Now this, I didn’t see as a positive. It’s never a good lesson when the good character uses an evil object/means to attain a good end.

I was really disappointed that this was the resolution of the “defeat Nimiane” problem. I was all excited for a Christ-like sacrificial death for his family and friends (Henry was willing). Or even a tribute to the power of love: Henry defeating the witch with the help of his family’s love. Or better yet a simple good triumphs over evil: Henry defeats the witch because good is more powerful than evil. So that ending was a major bummer in my opinion and really undermines the other positives in 100 Cupboards.

Other negatives are mild sibling bickering and snotty behavior in book 1, and a decent amount of violence and suspense. The violence isn’t described graphically as a general rule. It’s mostly offscreen, along the lines of someone seeing the knife coming, then fade out. However, lots of people die, including some minor characters. There’s also quite a bit of suspense and scariness, including: a witch who drinks blood, witch dogs, possessed men with fingers growing out of their skulls, kidnapping, disturbing dreams, souls being separated from bodies, and Henry and his family frequently being in danger of imminent death.

In Conclusion

100 Cupboards has many positive aspects, countered by a few major negatives. I think it’s the sort of series that is often read at too young an age; it’s often recommended for children as young as 8, which I think too young for these type of themes and level of suspense. For older readers (11+ perhaps) it could be enjoyed with some parental discussion about the problem with the use of evil means to a good end. Or you could skip it, and enjoy some better fantasy series I wholeheartedly recommend. Check out my list Beyond Narnia: More Great Fantasy Series for Catholic Kids and Teens for ideas!

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Review of “The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses”

"catholic treasury of prayers and verses"

Looking for the perfect prayer book for your 6-10 year old? You’ve found it!

The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses is sure to delight both parents and children! This collection of beautiful prayers is complemented with tranquil illustrations to create the perfect prayer time companion for elementary schoolers.

Prayers both familiar and uncommon

I think this collection found a great balance between the classic prayers (Our Father, Apostles Creed, Hail Mary, Rosary instructions, etc) and lesser known prayers and Bible verses. You’ll find short prayers from St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. John Neumann, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and more!

Great to take to Mass or Adoration

My favorite section includes prayers before the Eucharist, perfect for before and after Communion and during Adoration. There’s the classic Anima Christi, and little known prayers from Padre Pio and St. Francis of Assisi. There’s also an act of spiritual communion children can use daily.

Accessible Size and High Quality Binding

At 55 pages, The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses won’t intimidate children. The length of the prayers and beautiful page embellishments are carefully selected to hold the interest of the elementary school crowd. With the quality hardcover binding, this little book would make a great gift for a First Communicant!

Buy The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses through my affiliate link on Amazon: The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses

Or buy it through my affiliate link on Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/lists/book-review-books

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Catholic Treasury of Prayers and Verses” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Review of “The Tuttle Twins” Series

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The Tuttle Twins

After seeing many ads for The Tuttle Twins books, I was excited to check out and review this popular series. The basic premise of the series is that twins Ethan and Emily Tuttle learn about economic principles and the path to freedom. Through simple stories and explanations, author Connor Boyack succeeds in actually making libertarian principles understandable for the 6-10 year old crowd. Impressive!

Libertarian Worldview

First of all, these books are written from a staunchly libertarian, black and white perspective. If you are a libertarian you will be a huge fan of these books. If you are generally conservative in your political views, you’ll enjoy parts of these books while not 100% agreeing with others. You might want to take a book by book approach, since each short book is focused on a particular concept. Personally, I think that most of the concepts in the books are worth learning about: hyperinflation, free market, coercive governments, the role of law, personal responsibility, entitlement, etc. On the other hand, I thought some concepts were oversimplified; for example, that central planning is always a bad idea.

Didactic Literature

These books belong to the time-honored tradition of didactic literature: books which both entertain and instruct. In other words, these books are not classics with superb style and diction. But they are very effective in conveying their concepts. My 8 year old can easily articulate many of these economic principles after reading this series.

Young Kids Enjoy Them

Here’s an important question: will my kids actually read them? Yes, they will, if they’re like mine. The bright, modern illustrations and simple text make these books easy and approachable for young readers. They are just right for the target audience of 6-10 year olds.

Encouraging Political Activism

One thing I think all parents will appreciate is the focus on encouraging children to get involved and take action to support their beliefs. For example, when city laws shut down their favorite food truck, Ethan and Emily go to the press to help publicize the unfairness of the laws.

Concepts by Book

Here are the main concepts covered in each book, if you want to pick and choose.

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  1. The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law: the proper role of government and law, and what legal plunder is
  2. The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil: free market principles (and how a pencil is made)
  3. The Tuttle Twins and the Creature from Jekyll Island: banking, money, and the problem of inflation
  4. The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck Fiasco: business regulations, competition, and government cronyism
  5. The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom: unintended consequences of central planning
  6. The Tuttle Twins and the Golden Rule: the Golden Rule and the dangers of revenge
  7. The Tuttle Twins and the Search for Atlas: entitlement, personal responsibility, producers and consumers
  8. The Tuttle Twins and their Spectacular Show Business: entrepreneurship and business ownership
  9. The Tuttle Twins and the Fate of the Future: dystopias, coercion, and how to build a better future via cooperation
  10. The Tuttle Twins and the Education Vacation: alternative education options
  11. The Tuttle Twins and the Messed Up Market: loans, subsidies, bailouts, markets

Worth buying?

Personally, I think yes. Although you may not agree with everything unless you’re a libertarian, there’s also a lot of solid conservative principles about economy and freedom here explained in an accessible way for little kids. These books are completely clean, with a positive focus on supportive parents, respectful kids, and cooperation. They may not be great literature, but they’re effective in teaching libertarian basics.

The most cost effective way to buy The Tuttle Twins is on the publisher site through my affiliate link: https://tuttletwins.com?ap_id=goodbooksforcatholickids

You can get all 11 books plus workbooks for $91!

The Tuttle Twins - a child's foundation of freedom
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Review of “An Angel’s Noel”

An Angel’s Noel

Looking for a light-hearted Christmas story to curl up with over the Christmas season? Kenneth Zemsky’s An Angel’s Noel is a charming Christmas story in the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife. In An Angel’s Noel though, the angel who comes to earth is a sweet 6 and 3/4 year old boy named Tommy. Tommy is on a special mission from St. Michael to find 5 people who are willing to do a good deed before Christmas day.

Remember the True Meaning of Christmas

In our culture of commercialized Christmas craziness, little Tommy’s eyes are the perfect mirror to see just how far we’ve come from remembering the true meaning of Christmas. Tommy, touchingly, wants to go to earth to find 5 people who are willing to do good to “cheer up” God, who is so saddened by people’s forgetfulness and bad actions. At first Tommy has little success, but as he himself tries to help each lost soul he encounters, he starts a chain reaction of goodness that far exceeds his goal. Tommy reminds us all that Christmas is about the Savior’s birth, and what better way to show our love for the newborn king then to honor him by helping others?

A Christmas Story for Adults

Although the main character in An Angels’ Noel is only 6 and 3/4 years old, this story is intended for adults, not children. There’s several references to the clergy abuse scandals which particularly rocked New York, where the story is set. Also, at one point in the story Tommy encounters a prostitute, who propositions him with some rather graphic terms which go over his head. Otherwise, this story is clean and enjoyable Christian fiction.

Christmas Joy for All

In the spirit of the best classic Christmas movies, An Angel’s Noel concludes happily with a little theological twist I for one didn’t see coming! Although this book isn’t strictly academic or theologically rigorous in its approach to angels, heaven, and the immutability of God, I appreciated that the author did sneak in some things to think about when it comes to the happiness of heaven. My favorite idea was the concept that we will be able to hear first hand the adventures and thoughts of our favorite historical figures and saints. How neat is that? I, for one, am looking forward to talking to G. K. Chesterton.

You can purchase An Angel’s Noel through my affiliate link here: An Angel’s Noel

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Review of “Our Boy”

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Our Boy

From Catholic publisher Te Deum Press comes this translation of Fr. Hublet’s novel Our Boy. Set at the onset of World War II, this book follows the adventures of an orphaned Belgian boy, Jackie. Never before printed in English, this beloved Belgian book has great themes about family, friendship, and temptation.

Material versus Spiritual Wealth

10 year old Jackie comes from a world of wealth and privilege, but finds happiness with the poorer, holy Arcueil family. When Jackie is offered a return to a comfortable but Godless life, he has to make a tough decision. Will he choose to stay with the family that loves him and continue learning about Catholicism? Or will he choose material possessions and a life spent pursuing pleasure?

Great for 10-14 year olds

10-14 year olds will enjoy Our Boy. There is moderate suspense in the beginning as the Germans invade France. There’s also a violent car accident that kills Jackie’s grandfather and aunt. The most mature content is when a troubled Jackie briefly contemplates taking his own life. No graphic violence, language, or inappropriate content, so overall this is quite appropriate for a young audience. The historical fiction setting in occupied Belgium makes this book an interesting addition to learning about occupied Europe during World War II.

Our Boy is available to buy through Te Deum Press: https://www.tedeumpress.com/product/our-boy/

For more good books for 10-14 year olds , check out My Book Lists!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Our Boy” from Te Deum Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “The Spider Who Saved Christmas”

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An Eastern European Christmas Legend

In The Spider Who Saved Christmas, Raymond Arroyo brings a popular Eastern European Christmas legend to life. This gorgeous book tells the story of the Golden Orb Weaver spider who protected the Christ child.

An Unusual Christmas Ornament

In Poland and Ukraine, spider ornaments are commonly placed on Christmas trees. According to a legend little-known in America, a spider made a web to camouflage the cave where the Holy Family hid while fleeing Herod’ slaughter of the innocents. While the Holy Family slept, the spider spun a web across the opening of the cave which saved the Christ child’s life.

Beautiful Illustrations for a Beautiful Story

My favorite part of this book is Rand Gallegos’ luminous illustrations! The light seems to emanate from the Christ Child’s peaceful face in a way that fascinated my children and charmed me. To scroll through a full preview of these amazing pictures, check out the sales page from publisher Sophia Press.

Not for the Littlest Ones

This is a beautiful and unique Christmas picture book which older kids will enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the littlest children. My 3 year old (who’s a bit sensitive) was upset by the references to Herod slaughtering the innocent baby boys. The actual slaughtering isn’t described, of course, but there are descriptions of the wails and shrieks of dying babies, which may be upsetting to very young or sensitive children.

Great Present for 5-7 year olds

This beautiful book makes a great St. Nicholas Day or Christmas present for Catholic children 5+. Even your non-Catholic friends will enjoy this unique Christmas legend! We’ll be adding it to our Christmas book basket books this Advent.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Spider Who Saved Christmas

Or through my Bookshop affiliate link: The Spider Who Saved Christmas

the spider who saved christmas cover

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Spider Who Saved Christmas” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “Where is Jesus Hidden?”

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Where is Jesus Hidden?

Do you have a little one who asks why they can’t see Jesus? This innovative book from talented author Maura Roan McKeegan helps children learn to “see” Jesus in their daily lives. Using clues from Bible, your child will search each picture of everyday life to find Jesus.

So, where is Jesus hidden?

In the words of the Bible, in Mary’s womb, in the sick, in those in need, in children’s hearts, in the Eucharist. In Where is Jesus Hidden, children become familiar with simple Bible verses about Jesus’ life and teaching. Each verse is accompanied by a full page illustration with a real-life scene for children to search for Jesus. The solution follows on the next page. My 3 and 6 year olds immediately grasped the concept and loved “finding” Jesu son each page!

Great for the 2-5 year old crowd

Where is Jesus Hidden? makes using the eyes of the heart to notice Jesus in our daily life a fun game for preschoolers. Little children will internalize the important practice of thinking about God throughout their day: a valuable spiritual tool for their future. This book would make an affordable Christmas, Easter, or Baptismal anniversary gift.

Buy Where is Jesus Hidden? through my Amazon affiliate link: Where Is Jesus Hidden?

Or buy it from the publisher Emmaus Road Publishing.

Also check out this favorite of mine, also by Maura McKeegan: Review of “St. Conrad and the Wildfire”!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Where is Jesus Hidden?” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “O Come, Emmanuel”

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An Advent Reflection for Families

Catholic blogger and homeschooling mother Kendra Tierney is an expert at making Liturgical living accessible and fun for Catholic families. Following up on her popular Catholic All Year Compendium, Kendra and Emmaus Road Publishing are releasing an exciting new Advent book this Christmas season: O Come, Emmanuel.

Gather ’round the Jesse Tree

What better way to prepare for the birth of Christ than through tracing Salvation history with the Jesse Tree? Whether you’re new to this Catholic practice or your Christmas bin is already full of handcrafted ornaments, you’ll find something to enrich your Advent in O Come, Emmanuel.

For each day of Advent, Kendra gives you a Bible reading, a short reflection, and a prayer to pray as a family. Each day’s reading and meditations pair with the Jesse Tree ornament for the day. My little ones love taking turns hanging the ornament of the day on the tree as we read the Scripture reading.

Symbols of Faith

Grow in your faith as a family as you remember God’s faithfulness from generation to generation. Learn what each Jesse Tree symbol has to teach about God’s promises and growing relationship with mankind. For example, Kendra explains some of the levels of meaning in Jacob’s ladder:

Jacob’s ladder reminds us of the very real connection between heaven and earth. Angels bring messages down from God. Our prayers ascend to heaven. Our work to overcome our defects and grow in personal holiness throughout our lives can be seen as an ascent of this ladder, one rung at a time, towards heaven. The ladder itself can be seen as a symbol of Jesus, through whom we can reach heaven.

o Come, Emmanuel, Kendra tierney

Available in time for Advent 2020

O Come, Emmanuel is available in time for Advent through Emmaus Road Publishing. Order now and you’ll even get a special bonus: a FREE download printable of all the Jesse Tree ornaments so your children can color an ornament each day as you read the meditation.

Buy O Come, Emmanuel through the publisher: O Come, Emmanuel .

Or, buy through my Amazon affiliate link: O Come, Emmanuel.

O Come Emmanuel book cover advent reflection  Jesse Tree

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “O Come, Emmanuel” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite Advent and Christmas books, check out my Christmas list:

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Review of “The Vatican Christmas Cookbook”

Mouth-watering recipes, gorgeous photography, and heart-warming Swiss guard anecdotes come together in a merry and bright Christmas cookbook! The Vatican Christmas Cookbook combines the history of Christmas at the Vatican with David Geisser’s sumptuous recipes in a delectable melding of art, culture, and fine cooking.

Recipes Swiss Guard turned professional Chef

David Geisser’s unique career path from Swiss Guard to professional chef makes him the perfect guide to a Vatican-inspired Christmas. He brings you over 70 special recipes for Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and beyond into the Christmas Season. You won’t want to miss his sections on authentic Swiss Fondue and Italian Christmas cookies! I’m excited to try out the Vaud Fondue, Papalin Fettuccine, and Amaretti recipes.

Catholic History and Culture

Interspersed with the delectable food pictures are superb photographs of Rome, the Swiss Guard, and Roman Catholic artwork from the Eternal City. There are also short stories on notable Christmases at the Vatican with Pope Saint Leo the Great, Pope Gregory, and others. There’s history about the Swiss Guard and anecdotes from Swiss Guards who served under Pope John Paul II.

An Impressive Gift

With its glossy, thick, colorful pages, The Vatican Christmas Cookbook makes a splendid Christmas Gift. Anyone who loves cooking, Catholic culture, or just the Catholic faith in general will appreciate this high-quality book!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Vatican Christmas Cookbook

Buy it through my Bookshop affiliate link: The Vatican Christmas Cookbook

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Vatican Christmas Cookbook” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.