If you haven’t heard the hype yet, the internet is buzzing about this amazing new book by Meg Hunter-Kilmer! And with good reason! This is hands down the most thorough look at saints from all around the world I’ve ever seen. From Africa to South America to Asia to the Caribbeans, there really are saints from all corners of the world featured in Saints Around the World!
Around the World and Down to Earth
Although this book features Saints from all sorts of cultures and walks of life, the emphasis is on their common humanity. You’ll hear how saints changed diapers, saints gave their grandchildren pony rides, saints did laundry. This is so important for our kids (and us) to understand: the saints were not just great preachers and theologians, they were moms and dads and kids like us!
Broken and Beautiful: The Body of Christ
This book is a celebration of the diversity of the Body of Christ. You’ll read the stories of Saints from Papua New Guineau to Iceland. You’ll learn about Saints in wheel chairs and Saints with birth defects and Saints who were blind. You’ll read about Saints with learning disabilities and speech impediments. You’ll learn about saints with big personalities and saints who were desperately shy. You’ll see Saints from various ethnicities with a great variety of skin tones.
To match the beautiful souls described in Saints Around the World, Lindsey Sanders illustrated this book with beautiful watercolor pictures. Many pictures feature everyday items as symbols. This emphasizes the theme that these saints lived seemingly ordinary lives. You may spot a soccer ball, some musical instruments, horses, and more in the background of these illustrations.
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!
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!
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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.
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.
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+
Living Books bring history to life like never before for kids.
As Charlotte Mason taught, living books use well-written stories to capture the imagination and inspire an interest in the subject. History is a perfect subject to utilize living books as a teaching or enrichment tool.
World War II is both a fascinating and a tragic time period to study. The pathos and heroism showed during the terrible war has inspired many authors to write inspiring historical fiction stories for children.
And it’s very, very important that we encourage our children to read these books. As some schools, and even countries like Iran, deny that the Holocaust happened, we need our children to understand the truth of what happened during World War II. These living history books will bring alive the events of World War II in a way that children will remember. Stories are powerful!
“To forget [the Holocaust] would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Auschwitz Survivor.
Here are some of my favorite chapter books about World War II.
In Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, ten year old Annemarie and her family become one of the many heroic Christian families who hid Jewish children to save them from the death camps. This unforgettable story highlights the heroism of the Danish people and underground.
Hilda Van Stockum’s The Winged Watchman is the perfect World War II resistance story: exciting, fast-paced, with a touch of sadness. The young Verhagen brothers get a once in a lifetime opportunity for heroism when they find a downed British pilot hiding in a windmill. Also contains a true story of how windmills were used for underground signaling during the war. A memorable story about a Catholic family’s efforts to save the innocent in Holland. 8-12 year olds.
Moving to the Norwegian resistance, Snow Treasure retells the true story of how Swedish children helped smuggle the country’s gold out of the country to keep it from Nazi seizure. Great for 8-12 year olds.
In Twenty and Ten, a group of 20 French Catholic schoolchildren get their chance to make a difference in the war when they’re asked to hide 10 Jewish children. A sweet story with a funny ending perfect for 8-12 year olds.
In Italy, 12 year old Chico’s village becomes a headquarters for American soldiers during the last months of World War II. Chico’s friendship with the local monks and American soldiers will lead him into an unforgettable adventure.
I Am David is the touching story of a 12 year old boy who has spent most of his memory in a death camp. Escaping, he travels across Europe with only his compass and wits to help him survive. 10 and older.
In The Silver Sword (also published as Escape from Warsaw) three Polish children scramble to survive in the ruins of Warsaw. But unexpectedly they find purpose and hope when they learn their parents may have also survived the war. Now they just have to find them. 10 and older.
The Mitchells: Five for Victory is a Homefront story about an American Catholic family whose five children help in their small ways to win the war and keep the house going. Read my full review here. Perfect for 8-12 year old readers or also great as a family read aloud.
From Catholic publisher Te Deum Press comes this translation of Fr. Hublet’s novel Our Boy. Set at the onset of World War II, this book follows the adventures of an orphaned Belgian boy, Jackie. Never before printed in English, this beloved Belgian book has great themes about family, friendship, and temptation.
Material versus Spiritual Wealth
10 year old Jackie comes from a world of wealth and privilege, but finds happiness with the poorer, holy Arcueil family. When Jackie is offered a return to a comfortable but Godless life, he has to make a tough decision. Will he choose to stay with the family that loves him and continue learning about Catholicism? Or will he choose material possessions and a life spent pursuing pleasure?
Great for 10-14 year olds
10-14 year olds will enjoy Our Boy. There is moderate suspense in the beginning as the Germans invade France. There’s also a violent car accident that kills Jackie’s grandfather and aunt. The most mature content is when a troubled Jackie briefly contemplates taking his own life. No graphic violence, language, or inappropriate content, so overall this is quite appropriate for a young audience. The historical fiction setting in occupied Belgium makes this book an interesting addition to learning about occupied Europe during World War II.
These two lovely books from Catholic author Diana Gonzalez Tabbaa are a breath of peace in a stormy world. With a simple and gentle voice, Tabbaa takes on the difficult question of children facing the problem of suffering. (Have you noticed I love books about the question of suffering?) The Tree of Healing and The River of Life are the perfect books to help tweens and teens grapple with the problem of pain.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
The River of Life
Twelve year old Anthony lives on a beautiful estate with his loving and holy parents. But when his father dies suddenly, Anthony’s faith and trust in God are shaken. He sinks deeply into grief and loneliness. But soon, he rediscovers God’s love and goodness through the healing power of nature, hard work, and a little help from a mysterious young man named Raphael.
The Tree of Healing
Thirteen year old Rose, Anthony’s daughter, can’t remember her deceased father. Her mother is broken by the loss of her spouse and emotionally distant with Rose. This is a moving story of a lonely young teen who finds love in the right place: God’s arms. As in The River of Life, Tabbaa weaves in themes about Creation, mysticism, and heavenly help.
Beautiful and Moving Books
I can’t say how much these beautiful stories moved me. The lovely art and poetry round out the stories and provides a spark to encourage contemplative prayer. The mystical undertones are unusual to find in fiction- a wonderful surprise. I imagine The Tree of Healing and The River of Life will help draw many young people closer to Christ through contemplation of suffering and Divine Providence.
I received a copy of “The Tree of Healing” and “The River of Life” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Check out this FREE downloadable printable list to help your sons track their reading throughout the middle grade! It’s based on my popular book list 60 Classic Books for Middle Grade Boys, but has even more awesome book ideas!
Here’s a preview of what the first page looks like!
Both boys and adventure-loving girls will love these classic books about high adventure, funny talking animals, mysteries, and more!
To download this FREE pdf, click on the link below!
Today I’m excited to share my new project with you! Due to popular demand from my readers, I’m beginning a series of printable reading lists with check boxes and space for date read so your children can track their reading! Click the link below to download!
This is a free printable pdf for your daughter to keep track of her middle grade reading. I based this list on my popular book list 50 Classic Books that Middle Grade Girls Love but added in sequels and a few extra titles to bring the total number of titles up to 90! That’s a lot of books! Challenge your daughter to read them all between the ages of 8-12. These are classics, so most libraries should have a high percentage of these books available to borrow.
Here’s a peek at what it looks like!
I’m so happy with how it turned out!
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Step straight into Medieval England as you open Shadow in the Dark, the first volume in a brand new series by Antony Kolenc. With a meticulous attention to the historical setting and thoughtful insight into Medieval Catholicism, Kolenc weaves a fascinating and exciting tale. The story begins with young Xan’s dramatic conflict with a band of robbers, which results in Xan losing his family, memory, and feeling of identity. While packing in plenty of action, what makes Shadow in the Dark really stand out among middle grade historical fiction is Xan’s insightful search for the meaning of his suffering and journey of faith.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
What is Identity?
12 year old Xan loses his memory completely at the beginning of the book which leads him to question who he is, and seek a purpose in life. Although most tweens and young teens don’t have to deal with amnesia, they will identify with Xan’s quest to define himself and his place in life. A major theme in Shadow in the Dark is Xan’s quest for identity. He looks to his new “family” of monks at Hardwell Abbey for assistance in his search.
A wise nun tells him: “If you find our purpose- where you fit into this new life of yours- then you will find your joy again.” One of the monks suggests that Xan may find meaning in learning to read and write and study. Later, Xan begins to see himself as an integral part of God’s plan for the Abbey: the boy who can solve the mystery. When Xan begins to see himself as following God’s plan, he begins to find peace. This message about identity being found in your vocation, in doing God’s will, is a great one for young teens to read!
Meaning in Suffering
Twined with Xan’s search for meaning is his struggle to understand his own suffering: why did his parents die? Why did he lose his memory? Difficult questions, and Shadow in the Dark doesn’t give a trite answer. Eventually, with prayer and thought, Xan accepts that his parents are in heaven and, in a way, better off, though he will always miss them. As he sees his purpose in God’s plan for the Abbey, he begins to glimpse meaning in his own suffering. The question of suffering is another great subject for tweens and teens to begin to ponder, since this is an inevitable question in any Christian’s life.
Bullying and Friendship
When Xan joins the other orphan boys at the Abbey, he immediately runs afoul of the bully, John. Shadow in the Dark does a wonderful job depicting Xan’s initial attempts to avoid trouble and eventual rise to the occasion to protect the younger boys. Even better, Xan later works as a peacemaker and gives John a role in solving the Abbey mystery. In the end, Xan and John are striking up a friendship.
Reading Historical Fiction Critically
Although I loved Shadow in the Dark as a whole, there are a few points parents may want to be aware of for an advance discussion with their children. Author Kolenc definitely agrees with this; he provides a handy preface that encourages his young readers to notice historical differences in practice and attitude and evaluate whether these differences are positive or negative. For example, there’s one old monk who has special permission from his Abbot to engage in self flagellation to unite himself with Christ’s sufferings. The other monks emphasize that this is a “dangerous” practice and only to be undertaken with special permission from a religious superior.
Emotional Cliff Hanger Conclusion
Although I loved the emphasis on identity and meaning in suffering, and Xan grew a lot over the course of the book, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey! In the poignant conclusion, Xan witnesses the Abbot forgive and spare the life of a bandit. This bandit not only tried to kill the Abbot, but is also responsible for the death of Xan’s parents and many others. The Abbot, with infinite wisdom and holiness, extends forgiveness and touches the bandit’s heart, moving him to repentance. However, Xan, furious still about his parents’ deaths, feels no forgiveness towards the man who is responsible. Clearly, Xan still has a long way to go on his spiritual journey! Hopefully the second volume will follow soon so we can find out how he learns to forgive!
Great for the Middle Grades
5th-8th grade tweens and teens will enjoy this masterfully constructed historical fiction novel. There’s adventure, there’s mystery, there’s justice, there’s friendship. Xan is a relatable hero grappling with common coming of age problems. The overall positive depiction of a medieval Abbey as a center of learning and charitable works is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the future volumes in this series!