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 YearCompendium, 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:
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.
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!
Warriors: Into the Wild and its many sequels and spin off series are popular middle grade books. The middle grades are where parents often stop pre-reading their children’s books, so I try to do as many reviews of middle grade and teen books as I can. When a blog reader asked for my take on these, I was happy to oblige and write a review.
What’s it all about?
Warriors are a series of books about feral cat tribes: their wars, friendships, wars, alliances, loves, and mostly wars. In the anamorphic world of Warrior, cats talk, hate, love, and form friendships. But otherwise they act like feral cats.
In the first book, a pampered house cat, Rusty, runs away from his Twoleg (human) family and joins one of the four major cat tribes in the area. He is quickly swept up into an atmosphere of secrets, intrigues, and frequent battles.
Life is a Battleground for Survival
That about sums up the Warriors worldview. These books are often recommended for 8-10 year olds, but they were upsettingly violent in my adult opinion. Cats give and receive bloody wounds, kill each other, get run over by vehicles, smashed by bulldozers, and otherwise maimed or killed. Much of the book is taken up with lengthy descriptions of cat fights. A lot of these are quite graphic descriptions which many sensitive children might find upsetting. More problematic, for kids who are prone to be fascinated with violence, these books will definitely feed that taste for violence.
Interesting thing to consider: the human parallel of the feral cat world is probably gang warfare. The parallels are significant, particularly the obsession with territories, procreation, revenge, and rank. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it is a striking point to consider.
The cats are violently opposed to the idea of neutering and spaying animals. They speaking disparagingly of cats who have been to “The Cutter” (the vet) to be neutered, calling them fat and lazy. A major factor in Rusty’s decision to leave his human family is his desire to escape being neutered.
There’s a big focus in the cat tribes with having more kits in order to keep their tribes strong. I actually thought it kind of amusing that the series’ authors were so vehemently pro animal reproduction. It makes you wonder if they are equally pro human reproduction.
Anyway, as a kids’ book, I saw potential for kids to be very upset about their own pets being neutered or spayed after reading this book.
A little research brings you the fact that this series was begun by two authors (now written by at least six authors) who were inspired by astrology. This inspiration leads to a cat world where the “religion” involves some astrological aspects such as dead cats becoming stars in the “Silverpelt,” a thick band of stars. There is some instances of praying to and seeking advice from the ancestors/stars.
Multiple Authors = Low Literary Quality
Generalizing is dangerous, but at least in my reading, I’ve found that books like this with multiple authors tend to be low quality. The multiple authors technique seem to correlate with poor plots and even worse writing. Warriors confirms that feeling for me. Truly, the writing is quite atrocious. There’s stilted language and lack of a unified style. Or any style.
Warriors misses the mark on appropriateness for its intended young audience due to pervasive violence. It’s not simply that there’s violence; it’s that these books primarily run on battle fumes. Is the Warriors series the worst book your child could be reading? No. But there are so many better written books with better themes for this age range!
Just in time for Christmas shopping, here’s an original new Christmas story from Anthony DeStefano and Sophia Institute Press. In The Grumpy Old Ox, a blind and curmudgeonly ox lives with an equally crabby innkeeper in Bethlehem. When the innkeeper grudgingly allows a man and his pregnant wife to sleep in his stable, the ox encounters the miracle of Christ’s birth. His life will never be the same.
A Unique Theme
The Grumpy Old Ox is a simple rhythmic story on the surface, but as is typical for DeStefano’s books, there’s a profound theme lurking beneath the surface. The grumpy ox’s blindness is a physical symbol of his spiritual pride and selfishness: a form of spiritual blindness. When the ox opens his soul to welcome the Christ Child with simple gifts, his spiritual and physical blindness are healed. With this story for children, DeStefano foreshadows the many examples in Jesus’ life where pride and blindness intersect to prevent people from recognizing him as the Messiah. But in this hopeful story, the grumpy ox has a change of heart and is healed.
One for the Christmas Basket
If you’re like me, you love collecting special books for the Advent and Christmas Season. I wrap all our Christmas books into bundles and my children take turns opening one a day until Christmas. I’m excited to add this new book to our basket this Advent. I know my kids will love the bright illustrations and rhythmic story!
Would it surprise you to learn I don’t have a single favorite book of all time? As any true bibliophile knows, asking a book worm to choose a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It’s just not done.
Even choosing a list of favorites is almost impossible. The only way I can pick favorites is by having a clear purpose. So here you have my favorite books for Catholic book clubs. You’ll find a mix of classics and modern classics and a few quirky little known titles. In a book club, the main criterion is that the book provokes a good discussion, so don’t be surprised to see controversial titles on here!
7 Classic Books for your Book Club
Evelyn Waugh’s classic story about Charles Ryder’s unexpected conversion is sure to spark a lively discussion. Does he convert due to the troubled Catholic family he meets or despite them?
Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter is a lovely, thoughtful social commentary on the evolution and disappearance of family farming over the course of one woman’s life. Bittersweet and thought-provoking, this is one of the best books I read this year.
Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a sweeping American generational story. His very realistic characters plumb the depths of sin yet show the flashes of grace in everyday life. For a much shorter yet equally gripping Steinbeck novel, try The Pearl.
Consider Golden Age of Mystery detective story writers like Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie for a lighter classic book club pick. Gaudy Night is often called Dorothy Sayers’ best work. Agatha Christie said one of her favorite mysteries was Crooked house.
Here’s an early example of dystopian literature that is particularly relevant today. Bradbury’s creepy yet captivating story about freedom of speech and thought is as timely now as when it was published.
G. K. Chesterton’s name is synonymous with perfect paradoxes and incredible ingenuity in imagination in the best literary circles. For a first foray into this masterful Catholic writer’s fiction, try Manalive or The Man Who was Thursday. For non-fiction, I recommend trying The Everlasting Man.
The beloved Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux is brought to Catholics in a reader-friendly meditation style in I Believe in Love. This makes a lovely book to read during Lent, Advent, or any time you desire a spiritual classic.
Quiet was a transformative book for me in accepting and even embracing my identity as an introvert. I recommend it for a book club that likes science-backed books. Introverted Mom is a similar introvert-focused book with a more personal, feelings-based flavor. For a full review of Introverted Mom click here!
The Girl with the Seven Names is a saddening, surprising, enlightening book about what it’s really like to grow up in North Korea. This is a great contemporary book pick that highlights current day issues.
I’ve read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books with great interest. You may find yourself disagreeing with his conclusions at times, but Outliers, Blink, and his other books are fascinating and may startle you out of preconceptions about how success is achieved, how we make decisions, and more.
J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a modern day Cinderella story. This young man from a broken, addiction-ridden family succeeded in attending Harvard Law. Vance’s thought-provoking take on Appalachian America problems is balanced by his obvious love for his region and family. Quite a bit of language and domestic violence.
Educated is another memoir about a girl from a dysfunctional family who achieved academic success. Lots to discuss in this controversial memoir! Check out my full review here! Trigger warning: domestic violence.
A Man Called Ove is one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the cover. An isolated elderly man has just decided to commit suicide when his friendly neighbors move in and turn his life upside down. A little crass, some language, but still very worth reading.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is quickly becoming a modern day classic. This charming story pulls at your heart strings, and every book club will love the themes about books changing the course of peoples’ lives.
This lyrical bestseller by Delia Owens is such a beautifully written book I had to include it despite some reservations. Pros: gripping coming of age story about an isolated child in the swamps; beautiful language and tribute to the beauty of creation. Cons: unnecessary sensuality and sex scene, not integral to plot and easily skipped.
The Nightingale is a book that delves deep into the horror of life in occupied France during World War II. But it’s also a celebration of the strength and courage of the French women who helped win the war in diverse ways.
Trigger warning: lots of violence, rape, a little language.
One last WWII novel! All the Light We Cannot See is a fascinating story about two children, one French and one German, growing up in the years leading up to WWII. A clever juxtaposition of their points of view carries the story towards their inevitable meeting in occupied France.
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In this unexpected novel by a Spanish author, a typical young woman comes to an eccentric town that seems to exist outside of (or in spite of) the modern world. Lots to unpack in this book about distributism, classical education, the role of women and men, and more.
If you’re looking for a way to help your 8-14 year old understand the rosary better, or see it as more than boring repetition, this guided journal may be right for you. Rosanne Pallini-Verlezza applies her years of wisdom as a Catholic teacher to helping children and young teens grow in their relationship with Jesus and Mary through rosary meditation.
In this journal, you will find the basics of how to pray the rosary, but also so much more! There are pages of meditation, writing prompts, and art prompts for each decade. There’s a “treasure hunt” of research prompts to direct children to learn about Marian apparitions, Marian saints, and more. And there’s explanations of the history of Marian devotion and Marian titles.
A truly unique part of this journal is the section that suggests rosary activities for each of the Multiple Intelligence modalities. Here, your child can find a way of personalizing his or her rosary meditation depending on his personality and talents. For example, a “body smart” child might enjoy creating an outdoor rosary to walk on and pray, a “number smart” child might enjoy creating puzzles or games related to the rosary, a “nature smart” child might enjoy planting a Marian garden to pray in, and so on.
Blessed Mother Mary, the Rosary, and You is self-published and available to buy here. Although it’s self-published in black and white, this is a hardcover book with a good weight and quality to it. The black and white illustrations are intended to be colored in as part of the personalization and internalization of this guided rosary meditation. Overall, this is a solid rosary journal for Catholic kids.
I received a copy of “Blessed Mother Mary, the Rosary, and You” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Educated is the emotional and thought-provoking memoir of a young woman who grew up in a dysfunctional family. Tara Westover’s family was physically abusive, emotionally abusive, and verbally abusive. This makes her memoir a poignant and inspiring story about a girl who fought her way out of the backwoods to Harvard.
In many ways, Tara’s story parallels J. D. Vance’s story in Hillbilly Elegy, a similar modern rags to educational riches story. But in a fundamental way, Tara’s story differs from Vance’s. These two young authors’ interpretations and take-aways of the dysfunction they grew up with differs dramatically. Tara fixates on homeschooling as a fundamental problem in her childhood, whereas Vance admits his problem was an unstable family life.
You see it in the title. Tara sees her fundamental triumph as overcoming her educationally neglectful background. Educated is peppered with comments along the lines of “I never knew about the Holocaust- because I was homeschooled.” With typical liberal distaste, she dismisses homeschooling as a poor education.
The notion that homeschooling is an inferior education has been so thoroughly debunked Tara’s blanket dismissal is almost laughable. Really, the only question up for debate is whether homeschooling provides an equal or better education to public school. The only way I can explain her disdain for a well-respected method of education is to believe she is projecting her own experience onto the many, many thousands of homeschooling families in America.
Homeschooled or not Schooled
From Tara’s account, her family did not engage in much formal education. You might better say she was not schooled than home schooled. Yet she self-admittedly had high reading comprehension skills and enough education to prepare for and pass the ACT’s with minimal help from an older sibling.
Would it have been better for her parents to provide her with a more structured and aided educational experience? Definitely. But is a public school style, teacher-directed education actually necessary for educational success? Tara herself, about half of her other siblings, and many other famous homeschoolers such as Abraham Lincoln show that learning, and the thirst for more learning, can be awakened in a variety of ways.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say Tara’s non-traditional education was a large part of the reason she did succeed academically. Assuming she had been in a typical public school, most likely she wouldn’t have had such an impressive higher education trajectory. Would a typical public school education have given her such an uncommon interior drive and thirst for education? Maybe, but maybe not. And what caught her instructors’ interest? That she was different because she had been homeschooled. Would they have pulled strings, finding her scholarships and study abroad opportunities, if she had been exactly like everyone else? Probably not.
Hillbilly Elegy Life Lessons
J. D. Vance’s memoir is a fascinating counterpoint to Tara’s. Vance came from a comparable abusive background, but spent his years in public school. Does he credit public school with any of his success? Nope. In fact, he repeatedly emphasizes that he struggled academically despite having every possible opportunity for success at school. What does Vance say made the difference and turned around his downward academic trajectory? It was when he finally moved in permanently with his grandmother in high school and entered a stable living situation for the first time in his life. For Vance, having stable relationships and peace at home were key to academic success.
You can see how Vance’s thoughts apply to Tara’s situation. He might say that her fundamental problem was not that she grew up homeschooled, but that she lived with an abusive, mentally unstable family. Vance would say that like himself, Tara wouldn’t have thrived academically in the public school system either. Her academic success began when she began to put physical and emotional distance between herself and her family.
Is Tara’s story inspiring? Absolutely. But is her portrayal of homeschooling problematic for the average American reader? Yes. I would almost call this book anti-homeschool propaganda, except for the raw pain that bleeds out of Tara’s words, showing her very real wounds. This poor young woman is still reeling from a terrible childhood. Fixating on homeschooling as the problem and education as the solution may help her not focus on the real problem in her life: an abusive family that she struggles to come to terms with. It’s just a shame that she is choosing to vilify homeschooling. I hope that such an intelligent person as Tara will eventually process and accept that her own experience of homeschooling (or not schooling at all) is far from a typical American homeschooling experience.
Should you read Educated?
Be warned: Educated has quite a bit of domestic abuse and violence. Tara’s abuse from her older brother is particularly painful to read. If you can get past the violence and anti-homeschooling theme, then it is a well-written memoir about a young girl’s self transformation and will to survive. Alternatively, check out Hillbilly Elegy for a thought-provoking story sans the anti-homeschooling themes. (Note that Hillbilly Elegy is heavy on language.) Both these memoirs are absorbing and popular recent books: great for book club discussion or personal reading and reflection.
One day your teenager is going to ask the evolution question. “Was Darwin right and if so what does that mean for the Genesis creation account and our faith in a Creator?“
If Darwin was correct in his theory that all life on earth can be explained by natural selection and evolution, how can the Genesis account be correct? Once they begin questioning the veracity of the Bible and God’s role as Creator, a teen’s faith can quickly crumble.
But does it have to be a Faith versus Science dichotomy?
There are 3 major lines of thought on the origins of life.
1. Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory is the most accepted in scientific textbooks. It assumes no Creator.
2. “Young Earth Creationism” is a primarily Protestant theory of the origin of life; it assumes the Genesis creation account is true on a mostly literal basis and posits a very young earth to fit with the account.
3. The third theory of the origins of life is Intelligent Design theory, which has been promoted by a minority of scientists ever since Darwin published the “Origin of Species” in 1859. Intelligent Design Theory accepts many of Darwin’s discoveries and theories, but still claims the need for a Creative Force: the Intelligent Designer.
My approach to the Evolution Question as a teen was to tackle it head on by reading everything I could find on the topic! I read a variety of books pro-Darwin, anti-Darwin, pro-Young Earth, anti-Young Earth, and pro-Intelligent Design. The key point to remember is that these are all scientific theories, which means none of them are proven. Whatever your opinion on the question of life origins and evolution, it’s worth looking at all the theories.
Though I include books that explain each theory, there is a predominance of pro-Intelligent Design books on this list since I personally find that synthesis of faith and science most convincing.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
Pro Darwinian Evolution
Why read The Origin of Species? To get a fair idea of what Darwin actually claimed and what his evidence was.
Official Catholic Teaching
Humani Generis is Pope Pius XII’s teaching on the question of Evolution. He makes several important distinctions about what the Catholic Faith requires us to believe as regards the origins of human life. Key points include: that Catholics must believe the soul to be immediately created by God and that there is room for discussion about the creation of the human body. But Pius XII firmly states that Catholics must reject polygenism.
Pro Intelligent Design
Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is one of the simplest and most elegant challenges to Darwinian Evolution I have read. He draws on emerging research in Biochemistry to show the fulfillment of some of Darwin’s own reservations about his evolutionary theory. After explaining the irreducible complexity of the cell, Behe argues for the existence of a Designer.
Pro Intelligent Design
Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is an in-depth look at the sheer information contained in each DNA molecules, and what that means in terms of evolution and life origins. This book specifically focuses on the first origins of life.
Pro Intelligent Design
Darwin’s Doubt is a continuation of Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Broader in its scope than the previous volume, Darwin’s Doubt looks at the Cambrian explosion, Darwin’s reservations about his own theory, and how most evolutionary theories presuppose an existence source of complex information.
Pro Intelligent Design
The latest in the Intelligent Design/Darwinism debate, Debating Darwin’s Doubt, is Stephen Meyer and other Intelligent Design scientists’ response to some of the criticism he received for Darwin’s Doubt.
Pro Intelligent Design
For the philosophically minded, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again is a convincing argument for Intelligent Design based on final causality and formal causality. Gilson’s teleological argument is pure philosophy: no appeals to religious authority or revelation.
Synthesis of Catholic Teaching
Polish priest Michael Chaberek’s recent book is a well-done synthesis of 2000 years of Catholic teaching on Creation and the various Catholic commentaries on evolutionary t heory in the last 200 years. Chaberek is notable for his honesty in explaining that though he is a proponent of Intelligent Design, there is nothing inherently contrary to Catholic belief in the concept of macro-evolution.
Pro Young Earth Creationism
In Six Days is a synthesis of many pro-Creationism scientists reasons for their beliefs. Geologists, paleontologists, and more explain their reasons for believing in a younger earth.
Pro Darwnian Evolution
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould is one of the more convincing modernized Darwinian theories that attempts to “fix” some of the more glaring errors in Darwin’s original work while keeping the key tenets of Macro-evolution. His theory of punctuated equilibrium is fascinating. He posits long periods of stability punctuated by sudden bursts of evolutionary change. Why these sudden bursts of change?
Pro Intelligent Design
The Privileged Planet is a fascinating look at the uniqueness of planet earth. This book offers a physics and cosmology based challenge to the notion that our place in the universe is random.
Looking for more great lists for Catholic teens? Check out some of my other book lists!
Looking for a way to delve deeper into the Bible? Stacy Mitch’s Courageous Women is a wonderful Bible study for personal or group use. While focusing on the great women in the Bible, the author does not miss the greater vision of Salvation History. Courageous Women is an insightful exposition both of Biblical Heroines and the golden thread of God’s plan to bring salvation to mankind through the chosen people.
Perfect for Individual or Group Bible Study
Doing this on your own? If you’re a busy mom with only a few minutes a day for a Bible Study, this book will be a great fit! Each chapter is divided up into short sections so you can read a relevant Bible passage, commentary, and discussion questions in those few brief minutes you have for spiritual reading.
Have a Church group or book club that wants to do a Bible study? Do a chapter a meeting and enjoy the ease of having discussion questions prepared for you. There’s even a handy “leader guide” in the back of the book with suggestions for discussing each question.
For Adults or Guided Older Teens
Courageous Women is clearly intended for adult readers, though I think mature older teen girls could also enjoy this study. Parental caution advised with younger/innocent teens due to open discussion of some of the more scandalous events of the Old Testament, such as what “uncovering nakedness” means, prostitution, incest, sodomy, etc. Nothing graphic.
As you read Courageous Women, you’ll be sure to find a Biblical heroine you identify with. Whether it’s Sarah, Mary, or a more unusual woman like Bathsheeba or Leah, you’ll find a woman with whom you can relate. Although these women lived many centuries ago, Stacy Mitch shows her readers that they were women like us with many of the same struggles, conflicting loyalties, temptations, and triumphs.
As soon as I saw the luminous cover of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children I knew I was going to love this book!
This book fills an important need for a young child oriented Marian Consecration.
My family had recently completed a more traditional adult-oriented Marian Consecration and I was feeling let down. While it was a moving experience for me, I felt like most of the teaching went right over my little kiddos heads. In fact, there was a lot of wiggling and complaining from my littles.
So when Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children arrived in the mail, I knew I needed to try again with my littles with this brand-new child-centric consecration. And sure enough, I found Colleen Pressprich’s book makes a Consecration with young children doable and even enjoyable!
Gorgeous artwork and simple guidance make this book perfect for use with little children.
First, you and your children take in the sublime artwork for each day. I loved how talented illustrator Rebecca Gorzynska chose to portray Mary in a diverse variety of ethnicities! My kids are obsessed with the beautiful images of Mary, and I am thrilled that they are experiencing the many ways Mary is envisioned around the world.
Then, you read a short paragraph about Mary and Marian devotion. Finally, Colleen provides conversation starters: simple questions to inspire your children to think about Mary and engage in discussion. For example:
Have you done any tracing? Was it easier or harder for you to draw a picture of the thing you traced?
What do you think it means for God to trace Mary’s love in our hearts?
Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children
It’s only 5 Minutes a Day, and even the littlest children can benefit!
Colleen Pressprich’s evident devotion to Mary and experience as a mother brings an authentic spirituality and natural flow to this guide to consecration for young children. When I say “young children” you may be wondering how young? I think children as young as 2 will benefit from completing this consecration. My 3-7 year olds are all enjoying it. This book will certainly help your little ones draw closer to Mary as a mother, queen, and guide.
Do you have 5 extra minutes a day and young children at home? Then this is the perfect addition to your day!