The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West (Andrew Svenson) is the first in a completely charming series of books featuring a joyful, adventurous large family. In each book in the series, the Hollister family is confronted with mystery and adventure. Working together, the children and parents find solutions and bring justice. Svenson wrote 33 volumes about the Happy Hollisters, which makes this a great series for voracious readers!
A Different World
Mr. and Mrs. Hollister and their brood of five children live an idyllic life by a lake with Dad working a flexible schedule at his hardware store and Mom staying home with the children. The girls wear dresses, and the boys say “Gee, whiz!” Yes, these books are a bit archaic in terms of dress, speech, and gender roles. They were first published in the 1950’s, which rightfully feels like a different century to our 21st century sensibilities.
Despite the book’s old-fashioned trappings, children today will still love reading about the Hollister family adventures because the essential things in the books are timeless. There are still bullies, and the difficulty of moving to a new town, and sibling relationships to navigate, and nature to explore. Children today will also enjoy the parts of the book all children wish would happen to them: a mystery, an adventure, and a chance to save the day.
Mystery and Adventure
The Happy Hollisters captivates young readers quickly because of it’s cliffhanger style chapter endings. Each chapter brings a small adventure such as a lost child, a bear sighting, a parade, or a contest. Meanwhile, the book as a whole builds up the overlying mystery of why a strange man keeps breaking into the Hollister’s house.
In future books in the series, the family travels a good deal, finding adventure wherever they go. Through this, the reader gets some great geography exposure as the Hollister family explores the United States and beyond.
Wholesome and Inspiring
The best part of The Happy Hollisters from a parent’s perspective is its focus on encouraging virtue. The Hollister children model a variety of positive character traits such as responsibility, kindness, fairness, and generosity. When they fail to choose the best course of action, their parents are always nearby to correct them. Overall, the Hollister books are full of beneficial messages about protecting smaller children, being kind to animals, obeying your parents, and sticking up for your siblings.
Full of Fun Illustrations
One reason my children love The Happy Hollisters is the plentiful illustrations in every single chapter. The illustrations give faces to the characters and depth to the stories. There are over 70 illustration in this book, which is only 187 pages, so you get a half of page of illustration for every 2-3 pages. This really helps children hold the interest of younger children when reading aloud. The wealth of illustrations also helps retain the interest of reluctant readers who struggle with chapter books.
Who would enjoy The Happy Hollisters?
As far as intensity of adventure goes, these books are gentle enough for 6-12 year olds. Some 4-5 year olds will also enjoy this as a read-aloud, though very sensitive little ones may find the cliffhanger style story-telling too anxiety-producing. These books really do make a great read-aloud, since the range of ages in the Hollister family make these books relatable for children ages 4-12.
What kid doesn’t love The Chronicles of Narnia? As an 8-12 year old, it was one of my favorite series, and I still enjoy re-reading it as an adult.
The question is: what to read after Narnia? What other fantasy books can satisfy after such a wonderful series?
This question is particularly tricky given the murkiness about magic, magical powers, witches, and sorcerers commonly found in popular contemporary fantasy series. More insidious but even more harmful is the dualism and Gnostic worldview often normalized in fantasy series.
But don’t lose hope! Today I bring you an entire list of wholesome series for your kids and teens to devour after finishing Narnia.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander tell a wonderful coming of age story and adventure. Over the course of the five books, a young man named Taran grows from being a rebellious teen to a valiant and courageous warrior, in the process forging friendships, finding love, and helping save a kingdom.
Recommended for 10 and older.
Redwall by Brian Jacques has delighted generations of children with its amusing animal heroes, high feasts, and epic battles. This series is satisfyingly long: a whopping 22 books. Some of the later volumes drag, but be sure and buy the first six books at least, which are excellent!
Recommended for 10 and older.
In the Hall of the Dragon King is the first of Stephen Lawhead’s Dragon King Trilogy. Complete with heroic quests, giant serpents, fair maidens to rescue, and a chilling necromancer to defeat, this series is guaranteed to please fantasy lovers. But it also has a solid plot, well-developed characters, and a Christian worldview.
Recommended for 12 and older.
The Green Ember Series by S. D. Smith is a Narnia-like series of epic adventure and talking animals that gets bonus points for being written with a clearly Christian world view. Best of all, it is free to download as an Ebook so you can preview it before deciding whether to buy a paper copy.
Recommended for 10 and older.
E. Nesbit’s classic children’s books that blend magic, adventure, family, and outdoor fun are coming back into print. Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet are just two of her many fine books, which make great read-alouds or independent reads.
Recommended for 8 and older.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in John Flanagan’s captivating 12 volume Ranger’s Apprentice Series. These exciting tales follow teenage Will and his friends as they grow from impulsive teens into capable adults. Battling evil creatures, they learn to rely on one another. Each possessing a different talent, they must learn to cooperate. The characters do grow older during hte series, so this is a great series to dole out a book at a time as your child gets older.
First book recommended for 10 and older.
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis are the clear must-reads on this list in my opinion. Similar to Narnia in that they are allegorical, they are written for an adult audience and explore deeper questions about creation, the nature of man, and the will for power.
Recommended for 14 and older.
To conclude with the master, everything by J. R. R. Tolkien is naturally recommended for fantasy fans. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy should be a part of any home library. Don’t forget The Silmarillion and The Great Tales of Middle-earth also! They provide fascinating details about the making of middle earth and the tales of many of the heroes mentioned in passing in the Lord of the Rings.
From ancient times onward, parents and grandparents have passed on their wisdom to the next generations through fairy tales, tall tales, fables, and cautionary tales. Each culture has its own special stories, such as the American tall tales, while other stories such as Cinderella are told by many cultures with their own variations. Here are some of my favorite picture book versions of fairy tales, fables, and tall tales both old and new, renowned and little known, from around the world.
I love the gorgeous illustrations and Medieval manuscript letters in this beautiful version of Sleeping Beauty!
In this version of The Princess and the Pea, the queen and king get a slightly larger role than usual. The side banter between the queen and her son is amusing, and the illustrations take pride of place.
This beautiful version of Rapunzel is so vividly illustrated the witch may scare you! I think it uniquely captures the mixed love and hate the witch has for Rapunzel.
We enjoy this Spanish American version of the classic Cinderella story. Little Gold Star brings a Catholic flavor to this familiar favorite with Marian intercession taking the place of the fairy godmother.
My other favorite retelling of the Cinderella story is Jan Brett’s imaginative chicken-themed version: Cinders. The accurate depictions of a brood of bantam hens are amazingly detailed and gorgeous.
But, if you want the classic, simple Cinderella story, Marcia Brown’s Cinderella is what you’re looking for!
The charming illustrations in this edition of Little Red Riding Hood contrast with this rather dark cautionary tale. True to the original Grimm fairy tale, the wolf eats Red Riding Hood and her Grandma. But in the end, the woodsman cuts them out and saves the day!
E. Nesbit’s fanciful chapter books are favorites of mine, so I am happy to include her retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk on this list. She omits some of the more grisly details of the original tale, but adds in her unique touch with explanations of details such as why Jack’s shutters don’t work.
With The Firebird, you have at once a fairy tale and a ballet (by Igor Stravinsky). This version of the fairy tale contains both a depiction of the ballet and a gorgeous fanciful illustration on each page. Caveat that the evil wizard villain in the story is quite disturbing looking and might terrify very young children.
Another Russian fairy tale of the quest genre, the The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring has some of the most magnificently done illustrations. This tale is about an exciting quest and the winning of a princess, yet also raises questions about listening to your conscience versus blind obedience.
A third Russian folk tale we enjoy is The Magic Nesting Doll. On her deathbed, Katya’s grandma bequeaths her a magic nesting doll which contains animals that will help her break the spell which binds her kingdom in a dark, icy winter. This story has a touch of Narnia and a touch of Sleeping Beauty.
The Legend of the Bluebonnet is a sad but beautiful story of self-sacrifice. A little Indian girl gives up her one cherished toy to save her people from famine.
The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is an old folk tale about finding and pursuing your own particular calling. A young Indian boy feels more drawn to painting the scenes around him then joining in usual hunting activities of his friends.
We love our American Tall Tales, especially Steven Kellog’s fun editions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Johnny Appleseed. His detail-rich illustration style brings a wealth of amusing tidbits to these already entertaining tales.
Stone Soup is an old French folk tale about some smart soldiers who outwit a village of selfish people. A lesson in sharing.
Tikki Tikki Tembo has a fun rhythmic cadence that children love. An old Chinese folk tale, it cautions against giving children very, very, very long names.
The Ugly Duckling is a favorite fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson. The theme of not judging someone by their outward appearance has a timeless appeal, and Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations bring this story to life in a powerful way.
The Pancake Boy is a fun Norwegian version of the tale Americans recognize more readily as “The Gingerbread Man.” In the Norwegian version, a pig devours the gullible Pancake Boy in the end!
Speaking of Gingerbread Baby, we love Jan Brett’s version of this favorite folk tale.
Honey… Honey… Lion! has all of Jan Brett’s trademark attention to detail and beautiful illustrations. In this African tale, Honey Badger learns the hard way not to be selfish and hog all the honey!
The 3 Little Dassies is an African-themed version of the classic Three Little Pigs tale. Jan Brett uses vivid colors and a variety of desert creatures to bring this story to life in a new way.
Speaking of old tales, The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables is a beautiful version of the traditional fables from the ancient world. Each fable has a wonderful painting to accompany it which captures children’s eyes while a parents reads the fable.
Though a pricey investment, My Book House contains an amazing array of folk tales, fairy tales, and legends from around the world.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart looked like a fairly simple book. I had recently finished reading Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, which in typical Chestertonian fashion is absolutely amazing but also leaves you feeling like your head may explode from his awe-inspiring insights. Anyway, I wanted a simple book to review and ended up choosing The Mysterious Benedict Society at the library. I soon realized this book was a poor choice if I wanted a straightforward subject. In no time, I found myself dusting off my Theology major cap and delving into the Catechism, Aquinas, and Augustine trying to ascertain the exact position the Catholic Church holds on spying and lying while spying.
A STRAIGHTFORWARD PREMISE
The plot of The Mysterious Benedict Society is fairly simple. Four lonely but gifted children (Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance) are recruited by a benevolent genius (Mr. Benedict) to assist in foiling a plot by an evil genius. The evil genius aspires to control the minds of all humankind via his hi-tech invention, “The Whisperer.” The children are chosen because they have a particularly strong love for the truth and therefore a certain immunity to The Whisperer. Reynie and his friends have to go incognito into the evil genius’ organization to uncover his plans and foil them. On the surface, it’s a classic conflict of good versus evil with the reader rooting for the good guys.
LYING AND SPYING
The potentially troublesome scenario which this book creates is placing the four children undercover, in situations where they may have to lie, cheat, and otherwise practice deception. The children are repeatedly described as special because they have a strong love for the truth. This doesn’t jibe well with portraying them as lying, cheating, and so on.
The first question I had when analyzing the morality of the children’s actions was: are all the scenarios where the children tell lies under coercion or in order to preserve their secret identities? Mostly yes. Mostly. There are one or two occasions where Sticky tells a completely unnecessary lie, such as when he lies about his parents in the beginning of the book. These occasions are quite indefensible. It is up to you as a parent to decide if your child has the maturity to recognize these lies as deplorable and know not to imitate.
The rest of the lying and cheating is in the context of the children preserving their secret identities. What does the Church have to say on the morality of deception in this context? Not much, actually. There isn’t an infallible teaching about the morality of spying. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas’ argument would preclude lying when spying. But Aquinas isn’t always right.
In a fascinating article in First Things, Ethics professor Janet Smith provides a round-up of various Catholic positions on the lying and spying question. She notes that the lack of an official Church teaching on this subject points to it being a moral gray area, rather situation dependent. She draws an analogy to taking human life. Killing is wrong, but in order to defend oneself or another innocent, one can kill. Similarly, she says, lying is wrong, but in particular situations such as to save human life, one can lie. I recommend reading her article for a more thorough understanding of her argument.
Whatever your position on the question of lying and spying, the inclusion of such a tricky subject definitely makes this children’s book more complicated than your average adventure story. I would highly recommend discussing the morality of the children’s lying in the story. In fact, this makes for a great book report topic or family discussion!
To counterbalance the lying question, I found a plethora of redeeming themes in The Mysterious Benedict Society. Watching four children with diverse personalities coalesce into a team is a great lesson for the reader. Sticky is shy, Reynie is a natural leader, Kate is independent, and Constance is contrary. Their only similarity is a shared love of truth and common mission. Which is plenty to form a team and eventually friendships!
Another great theme throughout the book is overcoming fear. Sticky particularly struggles with overcoming his fears to do the right thing. The Whisperer soothes his fears and makes him feel happy: a seductive evil to resist. Reynie and Sticky both find themselves tempted to succumb to The Whisperer. Reynie thinks:
“The Whisperer’s version of happiness is an illusion – it doesn’t take away your fears, it only lies to you about them, makes you temporarily believe you don’t have them. And I know it’s a lie, but what a powerful one!”
Reynie and Sticky overcome The Whisperer’s seductive pull by relying on their friendships with each other and Kate and Constance. Reynie also turns to an adult, Mr. Benedict, for his wisdom. Through the help of other people rather than a machine’s lies, Sticky and Reynie learn to push past fear to complete their mission.
TV AND TRUTH
A third theme that will make most parents smile is the juxtaposition of TV and truth. The four children are chosen because they love the truth. What is one of the primary signs of their attachment to truth? They dislike TV and its messages. Now of course, in the story the evil villain is piggybacking poisoned messages on TV waves. We don’t have that in our world… or do we? Are the messages our children ingest from the media a positive or negative in forming their moral imaginations?
Weighing the pros and cons, I found The Mysterious Benedict Society to be an enjoyable adventure story with overall wholesome themes. After a discussion of the morality of lying and spying, this book is quite appropriate for children ten and older. Younger children could also enjoy it if they are mature enough to grasp the concepts of spying, mind control, and temptation.
Comic Books and Graphic Novels are the reading material of choice for many kids these days, especially boys. Fortunately for Catholic parents, there are some awesome options being published in this genre by Catholic publishers. Check out these great options which teach about Saints, the Bible, the Catechism, and apologetics! Also included are a few clean, enjoyable comic books just for fun!
I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing “The Saints Chronicles, Collection 1”, the first in a great new series being published by Sophia Institute Press. For more details, check out my review here.
The Adventures of Loupio chronicle the escapades of Loupio, a young troubador whose life is forever changed when he meets Saint Francis of Assisi.
The Action Bible is one of the most professional looking graphic novels on this list. Little surprise since its illustrator works for Marvels Comics! This Bible isn’t specifically Catholic, but it sticks fairly close to the Bible stories and is a great way to get kids interested in reading God’s word.
The Picture Bible, which inspired The Action Bible, is also a great resource for bringing to the Bible to life for kids! It points out themes and has some discussion questions for the major stories.
The Illustrated Parables of Jesus is published by Ignatius Press, which also publishes an entire New Testament by the same illustrator and author. We love these versions of the Bible with their gentle pictures which even toddlers enjoy pouring over.
I’ve included the Catechism of the Seven Sacraments on other book lists already because I can’t say enough good things about this brilliant idea for a Catechism. The information is simply presented, yet somehow touches on information many adult Catholics don’t know. For example, my six year old understands the Four Cups and how they relate to the Mass after reading this book. He had to explain it to me because I barely knew what he was talking about!
I was extremely impressed by the caliber of apologetics presented in The Truth Is Out There: Brendan & Erc in Exile, Volume 1. This book, and its sequel, The Big Picture: Brendan and Erc in Exile, Volume 2, present arguments for Christian and Catholic doctrines in a format that will be accessible and memorable for tweens and teens. Volume 1 deals with big picture questions about God’s existence, heaven, and happiness. The presupposition is that you are talking to someone who is an atheist or agnostic, which will resonate with teenagers as they begin to interact more with secularists. In Volume 2, The Big Picture, Brendan and Eric begin to learn about God’s plan. Again, there is an outspoken agnostic character who challenges the RCIA teacher about everything from Galileo to the Trinity. All this hard core apologetics is set against an appealing Sci Fi backdrop complete with junky space ships and villains.
The Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy is an award winining series from Catholic graphic novelist Ben Hatke. His books are clean, age-appropriate, fun, and definitely worth buying!
Mighty Jack is the first in another great series by Hatke. With nods to Jack and the Beanstalk, Hatke creates an exciting world inhabited by dragons and biting pumpkins. I love that one of the characters is a (mostly) mute autistic girl. I found the themes about having a sibling with a disability timely in our current day with autism rates skyrocketing.
The Adventures of Tintin by Herge. What can I say? TinTin is a classic boy-sleuth series that every boy (and lots of girls) inhale. These books are clean, fun, and funny. Lots of adventure and quirky characters. Note that there is some drug and alcohol use, not portrayed favorably. Also some rather humorous swearing along the lines of “Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles in a Thundering Typhoon.”
There are a lot of awesome books for 10 to 11 year olds! On this list, I have included books from a wide range of genres. Many classic children’s books such as Little House and A Little Princesscan be introduced at this age. More in depth biographies of saints are, of course, good reading material. Historical fiction from both Catholic and secular authors is a fun way to expand your child’s understanding of historical eras. I also include some fantasy and modern children’s fiction to round out the reading diet.
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series is my personal favorite when it comes to children’s series. Ransome’s command of the English language and skill as a storyteller make for charming adventures featuring three sets of siblings in the English lake country. Your child is sure to identify with one of the cast of characters and wish to read more of the stories, gaining an appreciation for fine writing and heaps of useful information about everything from sailing to gold mining to pigeon keeping. Read more about this awesome book in my Review of “Swallows and Amazons” Series. Discussion: How are the different strengths and personalities of the characters integral to the sucessful completion of the adventure?
A third wonderful series about saints for this age range is Mary Fabyan Windeatt’s Lives of the Saints series. She writes simply but eloquently about saints such as Saint Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima.
Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague is another book every child should read, both for her fine writing and compelling story. Two children’s perseverance in catching and buying their special pony is a fine story, but when you add the deeper theme of sacrifice for another’s good, then you have a great classic. Discussion: What do Paul and Maureen sacrifice for love of Phantom?
If you love Misty, Paul and Maureen, there are two sequels: Stormy, Misty’s Foal and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague.
If your family hasn’t encountered Hilda Van Stockum yet, you are in for a treat. This gifted Catholic author wrote some truly wonderful children’s books about the triumphs and disasters, humorous moments and touching times, all experienced by a large, happy family. The Mitchells: Five for Victory is the first book in her series about the American Mitchell family. The first book sees the family through World War II, and the two sequels, Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables , follow the family on a transcontinental move to Canada, a summer in a primitive cottage, and eventually to their new home in Montreal.
Prepare for a bit o’ Irish brogue creeping into your chikdren’s conversation when you give them Hilda Van Stockum’s Bantry Bay Trilogy: The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie on the Run , and Pegeen . These stories about the poor but happy O’Sullivan clan are chockful of gentle family adventures and Irish charm. Discussion: Are the O’Sullivans happier for being poor in material things?
The Winged Watchman is an amazing adventure about the Dutch resistance in World War II and their work to help the Jews. Young Jan teaches a powerful lesson of bravery, perseverance, and protecting the innocent which any child will benefit from reading. The horrors of the war and evil the Nazis inflicted on the Jews are mentioned, but not described graphically.
The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are two of my favorite books of all time, though very different books. The Good Master is a warm family embrace, the story of young Jansci, his patient, wise father, and kind, hardworking mother taking in his troubled cousin Kate and transforming her life through everyday farm work and family love. It is hilarious and heart warming and full of colorful Hungarian traditions. Its sequel, The Singing Tree, is a darker war story as Jansci takes charge of the farm and an ever-growing flock of fleeing family members, homeless refugees, orphans, and Russian prisoners of war. With moments of humor, this book is poignant and touching and deeply inspiring. Jansci and Kate’s hard work and open hearts bring joy to all that find refuge on the farm.
C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia hold a well-deserved place in the canon of children’s classics. These books’ clearly defined battles between good and evil and extensive Christian symbolism and allegory, combined with a fantaay setting and engaging characters, make these books basically perfect material to capture and inspire a child’s imagination. Discussion: Encourage your child to note as many parallels to and symbols of Christianity as possible.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House books are American classics, important reading for their accurate portrayal of pioneer life, for the many lessons about growing in virtue, and because Laura is a fine writer. The later books in the series, when Laura is grown up, are not as appropriate or particulary interesting for a 10 or 11 year old, but the first four books and Farmer Boy are perfect to introduce at this age.
Nancy Carpenter Brown has simplified four of G. K. Chesterton’s most popular stories to create a great introduction to this master for younger children. The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton will inspire your child to want to read the original Father Brown stories in a few years.
Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain Trilogy is perfect for the adventurous, the animal and nature lover, or the dreamer. These stories of a boy building a home in the wilderness and taming a falcon are sure to inspire courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, creative thinking, and a good work ethic. Discussion idea: Sam’s family lives in an overcrowded city apartment so he decides to go live on his grandfather’s remote acreage. Although this is a wonderful story to read, is it really a good idea for a young boy to go off and live alone in the woods? Or was it okay for Sam to go since his parents approved?
Elizabeth Enright created the memorable Melendy Quartet back in the 1940’s, but these four children’s personalities still burst forth from the pages. In The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet), the siblings explore Manhattan by an ingenuous plan of pooling their allowance so that each child has enough to make a trip once a month. The family moves to an eccentric country house in The Four-Story Mistake . In Then There Were Five , the children befriend and eventually officially adopt an orphan boy down the road. My favorite of the series s the last one, Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, in which the three older siblings, leaving for school, design an elaborate treasure hunt to keep their younger siblings from being lonely. These books truly promote family love and friendship, compassion, and creativity.
A Little Princess is a beautiful, classic story which teaches little girls that it doesn’t matter whether you are dressed in rags or decked out in riches, it is what’s inside that makes a princess. Sara Crewe learns by harsh experience how differently one is treated when penniless, but her kind heart and cheerful attitude find her true, loyal friends. Discussion: Is it easiest to see who one’s true friends are when one is poor and in trouble?
Nancy Belanger is a present day Catholic writer doing a phenomenal job writing for young girls. Olivia and the Little Way is an engaging, inspiring story about a fifth grade girl struggling with peer pressure who finds a friend and helper in St. Therese of Lisieux. This book has the potential to transform young lives through an introuction to the Little Way.
George MacDonald was a great writer who inspired J. R. R. Tolkien, and the old but good classic The Princess and the Goblin is a perfect introduction to his works for a young reader. The story is half fairy tale, half allegory, and completely charming. There are many gems of wisdom, such as the famous line, “Seeing is not believing… It is only seeing.” This story forms the sacramental imagination and a Christian worldview without being overtly preachy.
Beorn the Proud is a story of contrasts: proud Beorn the Viking and his humble captive Ness, and the Norse religion and Christianity, form an intriguing juxtaposition in this historical fiction novel from Madeleine Pollard. This book both informs about the Viking lifestyle and offers an example of apologetics in action.
Caddie Woodlawn is a collection of anecdotes about irrepressible, red-haired Caddie and her siblings’ scrapes and adventures on their family farm in frontier America. Throughout the stories runs a theme of growing up, and what it really means to be a woman of character. Discussion: What virtues would the ideal woman show? Can one be gentle and compassionate, but at the same time courageous and resolute?
Two young girls escape off a sinking ship in a lifeboat full of… babies? Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink may take the prize for most creative plot on this list. It is quite hilarious, of course, as the sisters struggle to corral and care for four babies while surviving on a deserted island. But this book is also inspiring, because these girls show cheerfulness, and an indomitable work ethic, and resourcefulness, and patience beyond their years.
Frances Burnett’s most popular book, The Secret Garden , is a beautifully written (get the unabridged edition!) English classic which follows young Mary, quite contrary, who finds redemption in a garden. There are wonderful instances of compassion, friendship, kindness, and patience throughout, and an overarching theme that people can change for the better- not just Mary, but her cousin, friends, and even a sour old man.
Grandma’s Attic Treasury by Arleta Richardson is a collection of humorous ancedotes that a grandma tells her grandchildren about her childhood in the pioner days. The stories usually impart a good lesson such as appreciating your siblings or forgiving a friend.
The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery is a thought provoking historical fiction novel set in England during the American Revolution. Three personable British children befriend an American prisoner of war and gain a new perspective on the justice of the war. This book teaches important lessons about the cost of war to both sides involved, and how kindness and loyal friendship can build bridges between honorable men with opposing positions.
Also by Constancw Savery, Enemy Brothers is the captivating, moving story of Max, a boy stolen as a baby and raised to be a Nazi, who is suddenly returned to his real English family as World War II begins. Max learns the power of truth, goodness, and love to change hearts and minds as he struggles to decide where his loyalties lie.
Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard, is a story of the love between a boy and a dog, the story of a poor boy overcoming the odds to win, and the story of an epic battle between the savage wilderness and the friendship of boy and dog. Yes, all in one book. This series, which includes Irish Red and Outlaw Red, is a must read, particularly for boys, for its depiction of bravery, loyalty, and friendship. Jim Kjelgaard was a prolific writer, and any books by him you can find in print are worth buying!
The Twenty-One Balloons is a fun and funny tale of a tired professor whose attempt at a solitary balloon voyage goes sorely awry. Somehow, he ends up in the wrong ocean with far too many balloons, and his fantastical tale of how this occurred is the substance of the book. Well written, this book inspires creativity and resourcefulness.
Brian Jacques’ Redwall and sequels are charming fantasy tales of an animal world where good and evil are very clearly defined and it is easy tell heroes from villains. Children, especially boys, love these books, and many reluctant readers can be coaxed into a love of reading by them.
Edith Nesbit’s books blend fantasy and everyday life in a captivating fashion. I think the worthwhile lesson for Catholic children is a recognition of the transcendence and the existence of things unseen. For example, the magical Psammead in Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet does not actually exist, but reading these books broadens the child’s imagination. The “magic” here is not the controversial sort of spells and witches found in Harry Potter, but rather of the genii in a bottle who grants wishes fairy tale variety.
All-of-a-Kind Family is a wonderful collection of anecdotes about a Jewish family with five daughters living in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. This book is brimming with family warmth and love and a spirit of working together cheerfully. If your girls love this book, fortunately they can read more about Ella, Henny, Charlotte, Sarah, and Gertie in More All-Of-A-Kind Family.
Margaret Sydney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew is another American classic from the turn of the twentieth century. This story of a widowed mother and her five children working together to survive poverty and sickness is a classic because of the overwhelming love, loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice the members of the family shows for each other.
The Wheel on the School is a modern classic about children in a Dutch village who dream of bringing the storks back to nest in their village. This is a story of how dreams can come true through teamwork. Discussion: Do you have a dream for making a difference in some way to share with your parents and family? How can we work together to accomplish this dream?
Adam of the Road is historical fiction set in thirteenth century England. Eleven year old Adam loses both his minstrel father and dog but with strong determination sets out across England to find them. A tale of perseverance.
For a bit of Irish history and adventure, read Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal . Hugh was a real Irishman whose capture, exciting escape, battle against the elements, and dramatic homecoming make for an engrossing story of courage and perseverance.
Snow Treasure is an inspiring true story about a group of brave Norwegian children who sled over nine milllion dollars in gold safely past the Nazis and out of their country.
First Farm in the Valley is the story of a Polish immigrant family living in the midwest in pioneer days. There is a wealth of Polish Catholic tradition in these heart warming anecdotes about family, friendship, and faith.
By the wonderful authoress Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl is the story of a family struggling to make a home in central Florida in the early twentieth century. There are so many good themes: forgiveness, loving your enemy and neighbor, especially when they’re the same person, and redemption.
Augustine Came to Kent is half saint biography, half historical fiction. Through the eyes of British born Wolf, the reader watches St. Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to restore Catholicism to England in the sixth century.
Calico Bush is historical fiction set during the French and Indian War about a young French indentured servant. Marguerite has to promise to serve a hostile English family for seven years in exchange for food and shelter, but her kindness, resourcefulness, and courage win them over. Discussion: Is it right for a person to promise to serve another in exchange for basic necessities? Is this like slavery? Or is it a good solution for an orphan? What would your solution be?
By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman is a humorously told look at the California Gold Rush. Twelve year old Jack and his faithful butler go west in search of gold to save his aunt from losing her house. Courage, loyalty, and laugh out loud fun abound in this adventurous tale.
Paddle-to-the-Sea is a wonderfully illustrated book that combines a wealth of information about the geography of the great lakes with an entertaining story about a wooden man traveling to the sea. An award winning classic that has the potential to awaken an interest in geography.
If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket follows two brothers, one in the service of Henry II and one a scribe for Thomas Becket, to examine the character of the two men and follow the events leading to the infamous cathedral martyrdom. An inspiring story of courage and loyalty.
The Great Wheel is historical fiction about a young Irish immigrant who becomes involved in the construction of the first Ferris Wheel. Robert Lawson’s illustrations are always enjoyable, as is this story about perseverance and industriousness.
Turn Homeward, Hannalee is a historical fiction novel based on true events involving a southern mill town. Hannalee is determined to make her way back home to Georgia from the northern mill at which she had been forced to work. A story of courage and perseverance, and also a great book for discussing the War between the States. Discussion: Were both North and South hurt by the war? Why did the South want to leave the United States? Should they have been allowed to according to the Consitution?
Toliver’s Secret is an inspiring Revolutionary War story about a timid girl who must rise to the occasion and deliver an important message to George Washington. This book will resonate both with the timid and the adventurous child as Ellen finds her courage and sucessfully delivers her message.
Johnny Tremain is another Revolutionary War historical fiction story, this time about a boy with a crippled hand who rides as a messenger for several famous patriots such as Paul Revere and John Adams. An interesting look at the founding fathers, combined with a theme of working through disability, makes this a worthwhile read.
World War II is a fascinating period for children to read about. North to Freedom by Danish author Ann Holm is a thought provoking look at what experiencing everyday life might be like for a boy who grew up in a concentration camp. The book’s original title in Europe was I am David, and the movie of the same name is excellent too.
Number the Stars is another story about the Danish resistance in World War II. A ten year old girl and her family exhibit courage and sacrifice through their determination to save their Jewish friends.
Treasures of the Snow is a touching story that illustrates actions have consequences, bitterness breeds more bitterness, and forgiveness is freedom. This and other books by Patricia St. John have beautiful Christian themes. Keep in mind that these books are more evangelical Protestant in their message than Catholic, though. Rejoice in the overall Christian message, but be prepared to discuss differences between Catholicism and Protestantism with your child. Discussion: Challenge your child to find examples of Protestant theology versus Catholic in the book. Is there more to Christianity than simply acknowledging Jesus as savior?
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes is a mid twentieth century classic about the adventures a somewhat chaotic family of imaginative, active children. Humorous and entertaining, themes of family love and sibling loyalty make this book memorable.
Homer Price is a story about a happier, simpler era when a donut machine was an exciting and difficult invention. Truly a hilarious story, complete with Robert McCloskey’s humorous illustrations, this book encourages both creativity and critical thinking.
Both humorous and inspiring, The Toothpaste Millionaire is about a pair of sixth graders who start a toothpaste business and through a combination of hard work and creative vision enjoy amazing success.
If you are fortunate to be able to find a copy, Fr. James Tierney’s Bush Boys on the Move and the other books in his Bush Boys Series are wonderful adventures about a group of children exploring the Australian bush.
Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat is his whimsical account of growing up with two pet owls in a small town. Mowat is a well known nature writer and his books are great for inspiring appreciation for nature and animals.
If you have a 10 year old boy who just plain refuses to read, offer him The Adventures of Tintin. Suddenly, you will have a voracious reader. Almost guaranteed. These classic graphic novels captivate boys (and girls) with their exciting adventures. Warning: These books do include a certain amount of drinking and some creative curses such as “Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles in a Thundering Typhoon.” The alcohol use is portrayed in a negative light and frowned on by the hero.
Charlotte’s Web is a classic about a group of anamorphized animals. Justly a classic for its depiction of love, friendship, and death. However, it can be upsetting for a very sensitive child to think animals have this much feeling. Discussion: Do animals really have feelings? Can a spider really be happy? What about a pig? A dog? What is happiness? Is it something specific to humans?