person with toy airplane on world map

Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books

Europe map with chapter book covers

Tour Europe Through Living Books!

These 20 Classic Chapter books set in Europe capture the culture and flavor of life in a variety of European countries. Since most of us can’t travel the world right now in person, entering these countries through our imagination may be the next best option. Here’s my picks for a literary tour of Europe this summer!

Ireland

Visit the Emerald Isle and experience everyday life in The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda Van Stockum.

Amazon affiliate link: The Cottage at Bantry Bay

England

In The Secret Garden, experience England for the first time through the eyes of Mary Lennox, a sickly child from India. Discover the magic of an English country garden and the moors.

Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Garden

England (Lake Country)

Join the Swallows and Amazons on their summer holidays in England’s beautiful lake country. Capture the flag, camp on a deserted island, and find some treasure in this classic.

Amazon afflink: Swallows and Amazons

Scotland

From the shores of Scotland to early America and back, this sweeping story of the Catholic persecution in Scotland includes realistic Scotch dialect and plenty of castles.

Amazon afflink: Outlaws of Ravenhurst

Sweden

Come join The Children of Noisy Village in life in a tiny Swedish village. Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame brings Sweden to life in this charming chapter book.

Amazon affiliate link: The Children of Noisy Village

Norway

Our part-Norwegian family love Snow Treasure: a true story of brave Norwegian children who smuggled their country’s treasure away from the Nazis on sleds.

Amazon affiliate link: Snow Treasure

Netherlands

In this sadly hard to find Newberry Medal winner, a group of Dutch schoolchildren bring their community together as they work to bring back the storks.

Amazon affiliate link: The Wheel on the School

Netherlands

Learn about windmills and the Dutch resistance in The Winged Watchman.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Winged Watchman

Denmark

In Number the Stars, a young Danish girl and her family embody the heroism of the Danish people who helped save almost all the Jewish citizens of their country during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: Number the Stars

Poland

Enter the adventures and intrigues of medieval Poland with Josef in The Trumpeter of Krakow.

Amazon affiliate link: The Trumpeter of Krakow

Germany

The Grimm Brothers traveled through the Black Forest collecting the tales that are at the essence of the German soul.

Amazon affiliate link: Fairy Tales

France (Paris)

A homeless man meets three homeless children who take shelter under “his” bridge. An unlikely family emerges.

Amazon affiliate link: The Family Under the Bridge

France (Rural)

Twenty Catholic children living in the French mountains help save ten Jewish refugee children.

Amazon affiliate link: Twenty and Ten

Hungary

The Good Master takes you right into the heart of Hungary with a fantastic description of farm life, the countryside, the celebrations, and folk tale retellings.

Amazon Affiliate link: The Good Master

Switzerland

Everyone has to read Heidi, of course!

Amazon affiliate link: Heidi

Switzerland/Alps

This fantastic book about a boy determined to scale a mountain to fulfill his father’s dream brings the Alps to life in all their majesty and danger.

Amazon affiliate link: Banner in the Sky

Austria

Come visit the White Stallion of Lipizza at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Amazon affiliate link: White Stallion of Lipizza

Italy (Northern)

A boy and his donkey work to save the local monastery and an American soldier during World War II.

Amazon affiliate link: The Small War of Sergeant Donkey

Italy (Southern)

Everyone is terrified of a cursed grotto; everyone but the mysterious strangers who are determined to uncover its secrets. A story of the discovery of the famed blue grotto of Capri.

Amazon affiliate link: Red Sails to Capri

Greece

Travel back to the days of Greek heroes with Padraic Colum in the iconic Golden Fleece.

Amazon affiliate link: The Golden Fleece: And the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles

Enjoyed this visit to Europe in chapter books? Check out more great books for Catholic kids on My Book lists!

duckling on black soil during daytime

The Best Farm Animal Picture Books

In the last month, we’ve added three dwarf goats, two giant dogs, and nine loud ducklings to our farm. Farm animals are so funny and heartwarming; it’s little wonder that so many children’s classics feature these furry and feathery friends. I thought in honor of all our new animal friends, I’d share some of our favorite farm animal picture books.

These picture books about farm animals combine beautiful illustrations with stories old and new. Enjoy fables and folk tales, funny stories, and classics favorites all about our favorite fuzzy and feathery farm friends.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that I receive a small payment for purchases through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.

Love Garth Williams classic Little House on the Prairie illustrations? Check out Baby Farm Animals for his adorable versions of baby farm animals.

In Charlie the Ranch Dog, meet lovable farm dog Charlie, his friend Susie, the troublesome cattle, and the sneaky chipmunk. There are several equally fun sequels about ranch life, like Charlie and the New Baby in which Charlie and his family rescue a lost calf and reunite it with its mother.

Text from Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrations by award-winning Jerry Pinkney: what could be better? A Home in the Barn follows the coming of winter and all the animals large and small who find shelter in a barn.

Kids love the simple rhythmic text of the Little Blue Truck books. In the original, Little Blue picks up all the farm animals and even does a grumpy passerby a good turn. A celebration of teamwork.

Five o’clock Charlie may be old, but he doesn’t want to just sit in a field all day. He feels useless until one day he finds a new job and new friends at a nearby inn.

Based on the author’s life on an English sheep farm, Days on the Farm is a collection of short stories that capture sheep farm life. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations we just love.

In Tractor Mac Arrives at the Farm, you’ll meet Tractor Mac, Sibley the Horse, Pete and Paul the Pigs, and all the animals on Stony Meadow Farm. One of our favorite farm series, we particularly enjoy the detailed diagrams of farm equipment at beginning and end of each book.

Farm Morning is a simple but lovely story about a father and daughter’s morning routine on their farm.

This is unquestionably a farm animal favorite at our house. Alice and Martin Provenson describe all Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm in a humorous and memorable fashion.

Lois Lenski’s The Little Farm is an adorable board book about Farmer Small and his day on the farm.

Paul Galdone’s memorable illustrations recapture the charm of classic farm animal folk tales like The Little Red Hen and The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

My favorite version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott version. The troll in this one is a wee bit scary for very littles though!

If you love Margaret Wise Brown’s well-known Good Night Moon, you’ll also love Big Red Barn, her gentle farm animal story.

You probably know I adore James Herriot’s stories for adults. James Herriot’s Treasury for Children takes some of his gentlest tales and pairs them with lovely illustrations to keep children’s interest. These stories are longer, so best for a child with a good attention span.

Sensitive child warning: in the Christmas story, the mama cat does die in the beginning of the story, though there is a happy ending.

These cute woolies get into all sorts of mischief in Sheep Take a Hike and Sheep in a Jeep. We enjoy the fun frolics and rhythmic text.

Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg are sure to make you and your child laugh. Clyde wants a bath, Dawg sure doesn’t. This is a fun and funny read aloud.

The littlest listeners love the idea of a farmful of animals getting a ride in a dump tuck! The Happy Man and His Dump Truck is one of those good old classic Little Golden Books.

What happens when one boy brings his pet boa constrictor on a field trip to a farm? Find out in The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash.

To find more great book recommendations, check out My Book Lists!

red flower near white flower during daytime

Review of “The Good Master”

The Good Master

Although only time will tell what books of the last century last through the centuries as true classics, I’ll venture to predict Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree will be on that short list. Hungarian born Kate Seredy was a brilliant children’s author who lived from 1899-1975. She wrote prolifically and was also a talented artist who illustrated her own books. My favorite books by Seredy are the The Good Master and its sequel. Both books were Newberry Honor books and much lauded. Best of all, these books tell an engaging story: a story about two cousins and a farm and a war and a lost way of life. They’re a window that gives a glimpse into the early twentieth century your family will never forget.

These books are living history at its best!

The Good Master tells a simple story of Hungarian farm life in the early twentieth century. Jansci’s father is a successful farmer known far and wide as “The Good Master” for his gentle but firm way with animals and children. When Jansci’s difficult city cousin Kate comes to visit, the peaceful farm life is thoroughly shaken up. But in the end, the magic of animals, country life, and never ending family love cure Kate of her willfulness. Mostly. This first book showcases the simple beauty of country life and the Hungarian traditions throughout the year.

In sharp contrast, The Singing Tree begins with the advent of The Great War: World War I. Jansci and Kate are barely in their teens, but suddenly having to take charge of the farm as Jansci’s father must leave for war. In this sequel, Seredy draws a poignant picture of the challenges the impoverished Hungarian farmers and peasants faced, their confusion about the war, and how they survived by helping one another. This book, though sad, is even more beautiful than The Good Master. If you’re studying the early twentieth century or World War I, The Singing Tree is a must-read.

Anything parents should be aware of?

No violence, sexual content, language, and so on. These books are squeaky clean and beautifully written! There is some dramatic tension in the second book about whether Jansci’s father will come home. Other soldiers from their village die in the war. There are orphans and homeless who shelter on Jansci’s farm. Undeniably, the Singing Tree is a very sad book at times. But it’s also a story of strength and courage and heroic charity. I recommend reading these books in the middle grades, around age 10-12. But like true classics, they’re very enjoyable read aloud as a family also!

You can buy The Good Master through my Amazon affiliate link: The Good Master and The Singing Tree.

For more great books for Middle Grade kids, check out My Book Lists, especially:

Review of “Classic Bible Comics”

classic bible comics cover

Classic Bible Comics from Sophia Press

Lovers of vintage comic books will enjoy this recently published reprinting of a series of classic comic strips. These comic strips retell over 20 famous Bible stories. The book starts with Adam and Eve and continues through to the Ascension and Pentecost. With vivid full color pictures and all the action, I think Classic Bible Comics will appeal to most kids in the 6-8 year old range.

What we liked

My 8 and 6 year olds snapped this book right up and spent a couple hours pouring over the vivid pictures and simple text. They gave it a thumbs up as an exciting and engaging way to learn basic Bible stories such as Joseph, David & Goliath, and Jonah. Their only complaint was that this book was too short!

Comparing to other Picture Bibles

If you’ve seen my list Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic Kids, you know we enjoy exploring all the great religious-themed comic books out there. So to compare with some others I talk about on that list, Classic Bible Comics is easier to read than The Picture Bible or The Action Bible. It’s also much shorter: it hits the famous stories, but doesn’t attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of salvation history. Basically, this book is short and sweet, like your favorite comic strips from an old newspaper.

You can buy Classic Bible Comics through my Amazon affiliate link: Classic Bible Comics

Or you can buy it through the publisher: Sophia Institute Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Classic Bible Comics” from Sophia Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

mount rushmore

American Revolutionary War Chapter Books for Catholic Kids

Living History Books blend fiction and historical events in a unique way that captures kids’ interest. The chapter books on this list are a great springboard for getting your kids interested in learning more about the American Revolutionary War and the great men who helped found our country!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that I will receive a small fee if you buy through my link at no additional cost to you.

Ben and Me American Revolutionary War

Ben and Me is a unique biography of Benjamin Franklin, cleverly written by his trusty sidekick Amos the Mouse. This book is hilarious, memorable, and easy to read. Perfect for 8-10 year olds.

Mr. Revere and I
American Revolutionary War Chapter book

Scheherazade the chesnut Mare used to belong to a cruel British officer. When she begins a new life with Paul Revere she ends up playing a pivotal role in helping the American patriots when Paul makes his famous ride to sound the alarm. After your children read Mr. Revere and I, your whole family can enjoy reading Longfellow’s fantastic poem Paul Revere’s Ride aloud.

On the other side of the Atlantic, George III of England seemingly inexplicable treatment of the American colonists gets a fresh look in Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? Newberry Winning author Jean Fritz draws on amusing anecdotes of King George’s childhood to help children understand this man who drove a country to revolt.

10 year old Ellen bravely takes her ailing grandfather’s place in a dangerous spy mission to help the American patriots in Toliver’s Secret. A thrilling story of a shy girl’s courage and patriotism.

The Childhood of Famous Americans series has over 50 volumes that teach history through engagingly writing about the childhood and young adulthood of famous Americans. For a Revolutionary War character study, I recommend their biographies of George Washington, Martha Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.

The Reb and the Redcoats follows the American Revolution from the perspective of a British family. When they are forced to house an American POW, it changes everyone’s perspective. A thought-provoking book that gives “both sides” of the story.

The Minute Boys of Lexington and The Minute Boys of Bunker Hill are by the author of The Hardy Boys! These old classics bring alive the story of the Minute Men and several famous American Revolutionary War battles.

Guns for General Washington retells the story of a courageous 19 year old who transported 183 guns across a state to help General Washington win an important battle in Boston.

In True to the Old Flag, prolific historical fiction writer G. A. Henty focuses on a young British soldier’s experiences fighting in America and Canada during World War II. I found this book gave a fascinating and often unheard perspective, focusing on the Loyalist American arguments and the British cooperation with the Native Americans. 10+

Johnny Tremain is a young silversmith who tragically injures his hand, ending his budding career. But soon, he finds himself working for the Patriot newspapers and being drawn into the fight for independence. 10+

A centuries old feud and some friendly ghosts lead orphaned Peggy on a journey back in time to interact with her American Revolutionary War ancestors. A touch of mystery, a touch of Romance, and a lot of masterful historical fiction make The Sherwood Ring a favorite of mine. 12+

Looking for more living history chapter books? Check out my list of World War II Chapter Books or my other books lists:

shiny monstrance in catholic church

Good Books to give First Communicants

May is First Communion time for many families across the country! Looking for a gift for your First Communicant, or a First Communicant you know? Here are some of my favorite books to gift on this very special occasion!

Bibles & Catechism

The Action Bible is a sure-fire way to get an 8 year old obsessed with reading the Bible. My 8 year old knows the Old Testament prophets better than I do, really.

Buy it through Amazon affiliate link: The Action Bible

The Catechism of the Seven Sacraments, or “The Lego Catechism” as my kids call it, can’t help but be a hit with the 7-8 year old crowd. This fantastic resource ties together Biblical history, Catechism, and Legos together in a fun and memorable way.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: The Catechism of the Seven Sacraments

Buy it through Amazon aff link: Catechism of the Seven Sacraments

My First Communion Bible (White) by Benedict

This children’s New Testament includes a forward by Father Benedict Groeschel. 26 Bible stories from the New Testament invite the child to know Jesus better.

Buy through Good News Book Shop: My First Communion Bible

Buy through Amazon affiliate link: My First Communion Bible

Looking for a more traditionally illustrated, simpler Bible? The Illustrated Catholic Children’s Bible has your basic Bible stories told in a simple and easy to read format for your younger First Communicant.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: The Complete Illustrated Children’s Bible

Buy it through Amazon aff link: Catholic Children’s Illustrated Bible

Prayer Books

Through the Year with Jesus: Gospel Readings and Reflections for Children

I’m a huge fan of this book of Gospel Readings and Reflections for Children. I love that it combines Lectio Divina and Visio Divina into a simple and effective devotional kids can understand. Check out my full review here! ADD

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: Through the Year with Jesus

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Through the Year with Jesus: Gospel Readings and Reflections for Children

This lovely hardcover prayer book makes a great gift for a First Communicant with its section of Eucharistic prayers. Perfect for reading before or after Mass. Full review here.

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

My First Holy Communion: Prayers for a Lifetime by Piper, Sophie

This keepsake book has lovely watercolor illustrations and prayers on a wide variety of topics.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: My First Holy Communion

‘Buy it through my Amazon Affiliate link: My First Holy Communion

A small traditional prayer book perfect for little hands to carry to Mass or for slipping in a purse.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Catholic Children’s Prayer Book

Religious Fiction and More

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells a legend about a town that had lost faith in the miracle of the Eucharist… until a miracle occurs in the town bakery.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: The Weight of a Mass

Buy it through my Amazon Affiliate link: The Weight of a Mass

The King of the Golden City is a lovely allegory by Mother Mary Loyola that helps children understand readying their hearts for Jesus. There are two editions: the original that appeals more to girls and a special edition for boys.

Buy the original edition through my Amazon affiliate link: The King of the Golden City

Buy the boys’ edition: The King of the Golden City: Special Edition for Boys

Life of Our Lord for Children, A | Catholic Books Direct

A Life of Our Lord for Children by Marigold Hunt is a story-like telling of Jesus’ life, ministry, establishment of His Church on earth, and death.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Life of Our Lord for Children

Heavenly Hosts tells the stories of real Eucharistic miracles! Kids will love learning about the power of the Eucharistic through these stories.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Heavenly Hosts

Patron Saint of First Communicants: The Story of Blessed Imelda Lambertini by Windeatt, Mary Fabyan

Did you know Blessed Imelda is the patron saint of First Communicants? Learn all about her in this book from Mary Fabyan Windeatt.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: Patron Saint of First Communicants

Buy it through Amazon affiliate link: Patron Saint of First Communicants

Saints Chronicles Collection 1 by Sophia Institute Press

The Saint Chronicles series now has 5 exciting and vibrantly illustrated volumes. These books are “cool” even to kids who usually don’t like reading!

Buy through Good News Book Shop: The Saints Chronicles

Buy through Amazon affiliate link: Saints Chronicles Collection 1

My Path to Heaven is a fantastic meditative book that introduces children to Visio Divina and Ignatian spirituality.

Buy it through Good News Book Shop: My Path to Heaven

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: My Path to Heaven: A Young Person’s Guide to the Faith

Made for Greatness is a one of a kind journal that encourages 8-12 year olds to develop a positive growth mindset. By reading about recent saints and using journaling prompts, kids will gain confidence and develop habits they can be proud of. Check out my full review here.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Made for Greatness: A Growth Mindset Journal for Courageous Catholic Youth

gray sheep

Review of “Saved by the Lamb: Moses and Jesus”

Saved by the Lamb: Moses and Jesus

Like author Maura McKeegan, I discovered Biblical typology in college and was utterly fascinated. As a well-catechized, homeschooled cradle Catholic, I couldn’t believe I had never learned about all the amazing parallels between the Old and New Testament. Now, with the Old and New series of picture books, you can teach your 5-10 year olds about typology as they become familiar with Bible stories.

What is Biblical Typology?

Biblical typology is the study of seeing the prefiguring of people and events of the New Testament and covenant in the Old Testament and covenants. McKeegan quotes Augustine’s explanation:

The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old is unveiled in the New.

Saint augustine

In McKeegan’s Old and New Series, of which Saved by the Lamb is the fourth volume, you and your children can see how Old Testament figures like Jonah, Adam, and Moses are types of Christ.

Saved by the Lamb: how Moses foreshadows Jesus

In Saved by the Lamb, McKeegan traces Moses’ life and the events of Passover. On each page, you’ll read a paragraph about Moses, then a paragraph about Jesus. The parallel placement of the text with carefully selected similar meter and diction really brings home to children the parallels. You’ll be crying out in surprise with your kids as the amazing parallels unfold.

You’ll understand the Gospel of Matthew better: why Matthew, the learned Jew, was so excited about Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. You’ll learn how the centuries of Passover sacrifice was conditioning the Jews to understand Jesus as the Paschal lamb that must be slain to save the people. And so much more!

An Important Catechesis

These simple picture books really provide an amazing opportunity for early catechesis. I believe they’ll awaken an interest in Biblical typology and scriptural exegesis in many children. The target age is 5-10, and I found this spot on for my own children: it went over my 4 year olds head mostly, but my 6 and 8 year olds loved it and kept interrupting to restate the connections. You can buy these books through my Amazon affiliate link: Saved by the Lamb: Moses and Jesus

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Saved by the Lamb” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Check out my some of my other favorite books on My Book Lists page!

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Review of “Through the Year with Jesus”

A hit at my house!

This year, I’ve been testing out Katherine Bogner’s new children’s Bible Study book: Through the Year with Jesus. And I have to say, it has just blown me away! Not only that, my kids love this book too and now look forward to our weekly Bible study time.

What I love about it!

First, I love the fact that this is a weekly book. Once a week is so much more doable with a busy family with littles than aiming for a daily reflection and feeling bad about how many days you end up skipping. In Through the Year with Jesus, you can just pick one time weekly to read and reflect with your children, whether it’s Sunday before Mass, as part of a morning basket rotation, or during a special family dinner night.

Also, I love that this book follows the Liturgical year. It begins with Advent, the beginning of the Liturgical year, and provides a reflection for each week of Advent, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter Season, and the second Ordinary Time. Is this book specific to a particular Gregorian Calendar year, you ask? No. The readings are chosen to be in the spirit of the season of the Liturgical year but are timeless and appropriate for any given Gregorian year.

Lectio Divina …

These Gospel Reflections are written in the time-tested Lectio Divina method of Bible study. Saints through the ages have practiced this simple but effective method of meditation on God’s Word. There are 4 steps to Lectio Divina: Lectio. Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Katherine Bogner simplifies and translates the steps to: Read, Meditate, Pray, Listen. In Through the Year with Jesus, you’ll find a Bible story for each week, discussion prompts for meditation, journaling, or discussion, prayer prompts, and suggestions for practical application.

and Visio Divina

I also love that Through the Year with Jesus uses a lot of Visio Divina. Similar to Lectio Divina, in Visio Divina, you gaze on religious art, meditate on the insights the art gives us into the scene, pray about it, and listen for what God is trying to teach you in this picture. Sound complicated? Really, it’s not, I promise! This is my kids favorite part of this book. We spend about 60 seconds silently looking at the religious painting, then talk about it, often using the prompts from the book. And if you’re wondering, the artwork is high-quality reproductions in full color! You’ll see art from Rubens, Fra Angelico, Barocci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and dozens of other great artists.

You can start at any time!

Since this book follows the Liturgical seasons, you can jump in at any point. It would make a great Easter basket gift, and you could begin the readings with the Easter season section and continue through all the way to the following Lent and beyond. This beautiful and inspiring devotional will be sure to help your family understand- and pray- the Bible like never before!

You can buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: Through the Year with Jesus

Or through my Amazon affiliate link: Through the Year with Jesus

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Through the Year with Jesus” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Check out more great books for Catholic kids on My Book Lists!

calm water with sun and orange sky

Review of “Our Lady’s Picture Book”

Our Lady’s Picture Book

After the smashing success of Our Lady’s Wardrobe, Anthony DeStefano and Sophia Institute Press follow up with Our Lady’s Picture Book, another simply gorgeous picture book. Like its predecessor, Our Lady’s Picture Book focuses on explaining several titles of Our Lady in a simple, straightforward manner that little children can understand and remember.

Our Lady of…

In this new book, your children will learn about Mary in her titles as Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady Queen of Peace, Our Lady of Sorrows, and more! Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a favorite title of mine, and I love the original painting in this book.

You can check out all the artwork in this video of Anthony DeStefano’s reading Our Lady’s Picture Book!

Our Lady of the Rosary & Lepanto

I particularly loved that this book includes a simple retelling of the Battle of Lepanto. Pope Pius V called on all Catholics in Europe to pray the rosary for a Christian victory, which seemed nearly impossible. Against all odds, the Christians defeated the Turks in this historic naval battle. Pope Pius V gave all the credit to Our Lady and she has since been known as Our Lady of Victory and Our Lady of the Rosary. Maybe Our Lady’s Picture Book will inspire you to hunt up a copy of G. K. Chesterton’s magnificent poem Lepanto (afflink) and read it to your family to learn more about this great Marian victory.

A Beautiful Book for the Family Library

The luminous paintings in Our Lady’s Picture Book are so fitting for a book that will surely kindle a fire of Marian devotion in the hearts of many little children. Both Our Lady’s Picture Book and Our Lady’s Wardrobe would make wonderful gifts for Godchildren, Easter basket additions, or choices for a family library!

You can buy both books through Good News Book Shop or publisher Sophia Institute Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Our Lady’s Picture Book” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

low angle photo of four high rise curtain wall buildings under white clouds and blue sky

Review of “Atlas Shrugged

atlas shrugged cover

Atlas Shrugged: Catholic Parent Review

The last couple weeks I’ve been deep in the philosophy of Ayn Rand as I submerged myself in Atlas Shrugged until late in the night. And I can’t deny I enjoyed this iconic novel. Despite totaling over 1000 pages, Atlas Shrugged is surprisingly readable, especially when you consider that is fundamentally an apologia for Rand’s philosophy: objectivism. I found that I agreed with more of Rand’s ideas than I expected, but her philosophy as a whole is fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism. That means you as the parent have some critical thinking to do about whether this book is appropriate for your teens.

A Myth Retold

The title Atlas Shrugged points the reader to the Greek myth of Atlas, the titan who was sentenced to forever hold the world up on his shoulders. Rand equates the brilliant businessmen who produce the ideas and money that keeps the economy growing with Atlas: the few carrying the weight of a whole world on their shoulders. In Atlas Shrugged, one genius named John Galt decides to teach the ungrateful parasites of the world a lesson by convincing all the brilliant businessman and capable workers to go on strike. The world collapses without them. They come back and remake the world according to Rand’s Objectivism.

Objectivism and “objectivism”

So what is Objectivism? Well, traditionally the term “objectivism” was used as the opposite of “subjectivism” in philosophy. Aristotelian metaphysics states that an individual possesses life independent of his or her mind whereas Hume’s school of thought is that a being is only real as the mental presence which acquires our representation of it. Rand, and Catholicism, follow Aristotle’s metaphysics and affirm that a being has existence independent of its mind.

Put more simply, Aristotelian metaphysics argues for an objective reality that exists outside the mind and that the mind can understand.

So far we agree.

But Rand took the term Objectivism and used it in a more all-encompassing sense to describe her philosophy, which applies to both the political and economic realm and the moral realm.

Atlas Shrugged and Politics Today

What I really appreciate about Atlas Shrugged is the prescience Rand shows about Communism and its pitfalls. If Rand’s philosophy strays too far towards egoism, Communism goes to the other extreme.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand traces the inevitable path of a world where private property is abolished, merit unvalued, and excellence frowned upon. In one chilling section, she describes a factory of several thousand workers who decide to abolish salaries and instead vote to distribute the money based on “needs.” Of course, the result is that no one has motivation to work hard, and everyone has motivation to try to be the neediest and most pitiful. The factory soon stops making a profit, the workers hate each other, and the town faces starvation.

In the setting of Atlas Shrugged, America is the last capitalist society; the rest of the countries are communist in government. The American government demands that the businessman surrender their profits to send huge sums of money to the starving Communist countries. Higher and higher taxes are placed on Americans to feed the rest of the world. Even within America, increasing tax burdens are placed on the producers- the workers- in order to support an ever growing welfare state. In response, the American workers begin to stop trying to earn more than the basis for survival since the rest of their money will be taken anyway. When the big businessmen follow suit and stop producing, the economy collapses and the entire world is plunged into a primeval darkness both literally and figuratively.

Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957.

When it comes to politics and economics, Atlas Shrugged has a message America might need to hear today. But when it comes to Rand’s applications of her economic philosophy to morality, there are some parts of Rand’s Objectivism we just can’t accept as Catholics.

Rand’s Objectivism and Morality

As Catholics, we believe in the sanctity of human life. In Objectivism, Rand argues that there is no intrinsic value in human life. What determines and bestows value to a life is the free choice to think and choose values. For Rand, survival is achieved by choosing to pursue one’s own self-interests exclusively. Selfishness is her ultimate virtue, and altruism her ultimate vice.

Sacrifice is the ultimate altruism, so of course Rand detests it with a passion.

Rand and Religion

Now, as I read Atlas Shrugged, I realized that Rand valued many traditional virtues greatly: justice, temperance, honesty, prudence, and even humility in its true sense of knowing one’s own worth. But she insists that all of these virtues are simply part of man’s battle for survival: his struggle to fulfill his own natural purpose, independent of anyone else.

I think she misunderstood religion, and especially Catholicism. There’s a great Fulton Sheen Quote: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Rand must have been one of those who misunderstood Religion.

Some of what she hates is a straw man. She claims that religion tells us to love our neighbor more than ourselves, whereas Catholic commentary on Mark 12:31 always emphasizes that in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you must first love and care for yourself.

She also equates religion with an excuse for people to demand what they haven’t earned in the name of charity. Of course, in its true sense, charity has to be a gift freely given: not something ever demanded as a right. (Note that here as in many places, I noticed parallels with the current state of our country where the government demands taxpayer dollars be given to “development” in other countries without our volition.)

For Rand, one of the greatest sins is a man using someone else’s pity as a weapon to manipulate them. Interestingly, in The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis comes down on this particular sin with a vengeance also. Now, a discussion between Rand and Lewis: that would have been worth hearing!

Original Sin is another huge stumbling block for Rand. She sees it as a cop out: a free pass on which to blame all our imperfections. In her view, man is born able to think clearly but begins to doubt his own mind and judgment as he submits his mind to others’ rules. This may be Rand’s view of the ultimate sin: to be untrue to our own idea of what is right.

Sound a little bit like the Catholic idea of never going against your conscience? It does to me. Of course in the Catholic view of conscience, a conscience must be formed correctly in order to be trustworthy.

There may be more common ground than Rand realized in her fundamental ideas and Catholic social teaching and beliefs. But unfortunately, in Atlas Shrugged, her conclusions are vehemently anti-religion, anti-God, and anti-charity.

Rand and Death

In Atlas Shrugged, the term “death” refers to a failure to live. Living, of course, refers to exercising one’s capacity to think and reason for Rand. So “death” in Atlas Shrugged refers to men who refuse to use their capacity to think. She describes such men as “no longer living.”

What exactly Rand thought about death in the sense of the separation of mind and body I wasn’t able to figure out from Atlas Shrugged. I don’t see how her philosophy encompasses this inevitable eventuality, unless perhaps she believed that there was nothing after death. This latter surmise is a probability given her hostility to Christian religion with its emphasis on a heavenly reward.

But Blaise Pascal’s classic wager comes to mind as I consider Rand’s philosophy: is the wager that there is nothing after death worth whatever pleasure we can wring from this world? Or is sticking with religion worth it given the unnerving possibility that it might be true?

Atlas Shrugged and Teens

Should teens read Atlas Shrugged? Philosophy aside, what else would parents want to consider about this book? The language is clean, and there is no graphic violence. However, there’s quite a lot of sexual content. One of the protagonists, Dagny, punctuates the book with her sexual relationships with 3 different men. Promiscuity is completely acceptable in Rand’s philosophy. (I actually found this surprising given the easily observable benefits of stable families to the individuals of the family.) Dagny’s sexual encounters are described quite sensually and take up a lot of pages. There’s also a lot of rhetoric about sex with multiple people not being a betrayal or immoral.

As far as the philosophical aspects of Rand’s Objectivism, I think that it’s too dense for most teens to sift through without guidance. As often happens, there’s enough true premises included that it’s quite difficult to determine where exactly the logical flaws are in Rand’s arguments. To really understand and refute the philosophy, a teen would need a solid grounding in metaphysics, ethics, and more.

Given the overt sexual content and hefty dose of flawed philosophy, I don’t recommend this even for older teens unless the parent is involved and helping unpack this dense and thought-provoking story.

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