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!
This year, I’ve been testing out Katherine Bogner’s new children’s Bible Study book: Through the Year with Jesus. And I have to say, it has just blown me away! Not only that, my kids love this book too and now look forward to our weekly Bible study time.
What I love about it!
First, I love the fact that this is a weekly book. Once a week is so much more doable with a busy family with littles than aiming for a daily reflection and feeling bad about how many days you end up skipping. In Through the Year with Jesus, you can just pick one time weekly to read and reflect with your children, whether it’s Sunday before Mass, as part of a morning basket rotation, or during a special family dinner night.
Also, I love that this book follows the Liturgical year. It begins with Advent, the beginning of the Liturgical year, and provides a reflection for each week of Advent, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter Season, and the second Ordinary Time. Is this book specific to a particular Gregorian Calendar year, you ask? No. The readings are chosen to be in the spirit of the season of the Liturgical year but are timeless and appropriate for any given Gregorian year.
Lectio Divina …
These Gospel Reflections are written in the time-tested Lectio Divina method of Bible study. Saints through the ages have practiced this simple but effective method of meditation on God’s Word. There are 4 steps to Lectio Divina: Lectio. Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Katherine Bogner simplifies and translates the steps to: Read, Meditate, Pray, Listen. In Through the Year with Jesus, you’ll find a Bible story for each week, discussion prompts for meditation, journaling, or discussion, prayer prompts, and suggestions for practical application.
… and Visio Divina
I also love that Through the Year with Jesus uses a lot of Visio Divina. Similar to Lectio Divina, in Visio Divina, you gaze on religious art, meditate on the insights the art gives us into the scene, pray about it, and listen for what God is trying to teach you in this picture. Sound complicated? Really, it’s not, I promise! This is my kids favorite part of this book. We spend about 60 seconds silently looking at the religious painting, then talk about it, often using the prompts from the book. And if you’re wondering, the artwork is high-quality reproductions in full color! You’ll see art from Rubens, Fra Angelico, Barocci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and dozens of other great artists.
You can start at any time!
Since this book follows the Liturgical seasons, you can jump in at any point. It would make a great Easter basket gift, and you could begin the readings with the Easter season section and continue through all the way to the following Lent and beyond. This beautiful and inspiring devotional will be sure to help your family understand- and pray- the Bible like never before!
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.
Giorgio’s Miracle by Laurie Schmitt is a charming little story about a Eucharistic Miracle. Giorgio is a sweet, devout boy who loves our Eucharistic Lord and is troubled by the lack of faith he sees around him in Turin. He begins to pray for a miracle to reignite the faith of the townspeople of Turin. Little does he know that his beloved donkey friend Franca will play a part in the miracle!
Giorgio’s Miracle is a wonderful book to read to 4th-6th graders to inspire a love of Jesus in the Eucharistic. I think some aspects of this book would be great for first communicants, but can’t recommend for that young an age due to some violence from the two villains in the story. These two thieves are cruel to each other and to Franca the donkey; sensitive children may be upset by this part of the story.
This book is an imagined version of how the the Eucharistic Miracle of Turin in 1453 occurred. It will be sure to inspire faith and interest in Eucharistic Miracles. Overall, Giorgio’s Miracle would make a great addition to a Catholic library or study of the Eucharist.
Giorgio’s Miracle is available to purchase here at Shop Mercy, where purchases help support the Marian priests and brothers at the National Shrine for Divine Mercy.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Giorgio’s Miracle” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
In children’s literature, there are classics about animal which talk, and classics about animals which don’t talk. To accompany my list of 25 Great Books for Children who love Animals, here are my favorite books about talking animals! If you have an 8-14 year old animal lover, they will love these books!
Black Beauty is a classic, both inspiring and heartbreaking in turns. This story of a gentle horse who just wants friendship and peace is beloved by both children and adults. However, it is very sad at times so use discretion for highly sensitive young readers.
Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I are two fantastic and funny tales of American Patriots and the founding of America as recounted by their loyal pets, a mouse and horse respectively.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is the story of the unlikely friendship that grows between a pig, a spider, and a girl: a friendship that is truly life-saving for one of the three.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is one of the best loved classics about talking animals. The happy, simple world of Badger, Mole, and Rat has captured the imagination of more than one generation. This book is a staple in any collection of children’s books.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is notable on several levels. First, it’s a timeless story of friendship between a cat, mouse, cricket, and boy. Second, it’s a great introduction to the variety of cultures in New York City, notably Italian and Chinese. Third, it’s illustrated by Garth Williams, of Little House fame. Worth reading on all three counts.
The Song of the Winns: The Secret of the Ginger Mice by Frances Watts is a fun little known talking animal story about mice triplets. When one of the triplets is kidnapped, his siblings set out to find him. Their journey is filled with mystery, adventure, and surprises.
The Redwall books by Brian Jacques are always favorites with Catholic children, even the most reluctant readers. These books have a wonderfully medieval feel with their high feasts, epic battles, and quests. There are over 22 Redwall Books, all enjoyable, though the first six are generally considered the best.
In some ways reminiscent of Redwall, the The Green Ember series nevertheless manages to find its own voice. This series follows the adventures, battles, and quests of a rabbit clan. Great themes about growing up, bravery, loyalty, and more.
All of the Narnia books include talking animals, but The Horse and His Boy stands out as having a truly memorable talking animal leading character. Bree, the kidnapped horse who longs to get home to Narnia, goes on a journey of self-knowledge and character growth just as much as his rider, Shasta. This is my very favorite of the Narnia books.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is the first of the Ralph S. Mouse books. Young Ralph is a mouse who longs for speed and adventure. Life in a hotel is boring at best until a sympathetic boy shows up.
Freddy the Detective by Walter Brooks is one of the classic Freddy the Pig series. These charming older books follow Freddy, a kind-hearted pig, on a series of ventures from starting a detective agency to becoming a lawyer. Other titles in the series include Freddy the Politician,
In The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle struggles to deal with his stuffy English patients. His parrot, Polynesia, teaches him animal language and he becomes a veterinarian instead.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has several talking animal characters, such as the unforgettable white hare on his way to have tea with the queen. This is a classic that every child should read at some point in their life.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is actually a collection of stories about the jungle. Many feature the classic cast of movie characters such as Baloo, Mowgli, and Shere Khan. These stories are more challenging than many books on this list, but offer great exposure to India.
The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner are both included in this beautiful color version of the classic Pooh stories. These hilarious stories are actually better enjoyed by an independent reader than a younger child!
Watership Down by Richard Adams is a talking animal classic about a small band of rabbits’ struggle for survival. Warning for parents of younger and sensitive children that a few lovable main characters do die in this story.
Thornton Burgess is well known for his animal stories about clever Peter Cottontail, sneaky Reddy Fox, and the rest of Mother West Wind’s children. You can start reading about their escapades in Old Mother West Wind, then continue with the whole series. These short books are great for encouraging younger readers to finish a whole book!
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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.
Thinking about Easter yet? Or concentrating on participating in Lent to the fullest? Here are some wonderful books to assist all ages in entering into these seasons of penitence and rejoicing. You’ll find Lenten Picture Books, Stations of the Cross for kids Books, Palm Sunday Books, and Easter Books on this List.
Little Rose of Sharon is a poignant story which explores themes about true beauty and self-sacrifice. A vain little rose eventually chooses to give up all her beautiful petals to keep an egg warm, thus imitating the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
In this folktale retold, three trees dream about their future. Each tree finds its dreams achieved, but in a different way than they ever could have expected.The Tale of Three Trees is a lesson in divine providence and self-sacrifice.
There are many great versions of the Stations of the Cross for Children. Here is wonderful one for ages 5-10 from Word Among Us Press: Walking with Jesus to Calvary: Stations of the Cross for Children. For each station, there is a description that draws the child to imagine what being at the Passion might have been like, then a personal prayer to encourage the child to speak straight to Jesus.
Stations of the Cross for Kids combines Scripture, meditaiton, prayer, and stunning visuals to engage children. This may be my favorite Stations book yet.
Little Colts Palm Sunday is the perfect story to read on Palm Sunday. The author fancifully imagines Palm Sunday through the eyes of the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.
Also perfect to begin on Palm Sunday, The Easter Story Egg is a book and nesting egg. Each day between Palm Sunday and Easter, your family opens an egg and reads the accompanying Bible verses and meditation. Difficult to find but a neat tradition.
Easter Picture Books
Looking for the Easter story as recounted in the Gospels? Fiona French’s beautiful book Easter may be the perfect fit. She uses colorful pictures inspired by stained glass windows to bring the Passion and Resurrection to life in a luminous way.
Rechenka’s Eggs is a charming story about giving, friendship, and how eggs are a sign of the miracle of new life. We love the beautiful Russian style illustrations.
The Story of Easter is a sweet little board book for the smallest children. It ties together spring, new life, and Jesus rising from the dead neatly. The emphasis is on the fact that Easter is really about Jesus loving us through his death and resurrection.
The Easter Cave tells the Easter story in a simple, rhythmic style inspired by “The House that Jack Built.”
In The Easter Swallows, children see the Passion and Resurrection through the eyes of two kind little swallows. Unfortunately out of print so you have to buy it used.
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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.”
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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?