This list is for every child and teen who has loved an animal so much they were sure that they could secretly talk.
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.
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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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Tween to teen is a tricky age to pick books for, since they are looking for something challenging, but are not ready for mature content yet. I strongly believe in not overwhelming children in this age range by exposing them too early to classic literature that was intended for adults, so you will not find Charles Dickens or Jane Austen on this list. But you will find books by many other fun, age appropriate authors such as Meriol Trevor, L. M. Montgomery, and Father Francis Finn. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books are beautifully written, inspiring books for girls and young women, featuring the struggles, triumphs, growing pains, and dreams of Anne. These books are often introduced to children too early; I highly recommend waiting until at least age 12 for the first book. Cheerful, dreamy Anne grows up throughout the series, so do not make the mistake of handing your daughter the whole series at once! The first three books are appropriate for middle schoolers; save the rest for high school. Discussion: What virtues come easily to Anne? What are her flaws? How does she strive to improve herself? Does God have an important part in Anne’s life? What is most important to Anne: God, friends, home, beauty?
Catholic author Meriol Trevor wrote a captivating adventure series for Catholic middle schoolers which begins with The Crystal Snowstorm. Set in the tiny, fictional, European Catholic country of Letzenstein, these books chronicle the involvement of Catherine, Paul, and other English children in the politics and future of the throne of Letzenstein. The maturity, responsibility, and courage these children show are a breath of fresh air, as is Trevor’s unabashed use of a Catholic culture, faith, and values. Good and bad characters are clearly defined, all people are valued, a cripple is a hero, family trumps politics; I love Meriol Trevor. There are three sequels: Following the Phoenix , Angel and Dragon , and The Rose and Crown.
A stand alone book by Meriol Trevor, The Rose Round is on the surface a simple story of unlikely friendship between a poor cook and her brother with the rich son and granddaughter of their employer. But in typical Trevor fashion, there are many themes under the surface: being handicapped, what is truly ugly versus truly beautiful, whether love is a gift or something earned, emotional abusive people, how hurt people hurt others.
The Light Princess is a fairy tale by master storyteller George MacDonald. Subtle humor, a lesson about selfishness, and a redemption theme elevate this simple story about a princess who lost her gravity (both types) to classic literature level.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is, of course, an American classic. The famous story of the struggles and joys of four sisters raised by their widowed mother has delighted girls for generations. If your daughter loves this book, by all means offer the sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys .
A more sober but still enjoyable duo of books by Alcott, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom take a thoughtful look at the virtues and flaws in eight cousins first as children then as young adults. As is typical in Alcott books, recklessness and laziness results in misfortune, while hard work, perseverance, and faithfulness are rewarded. Discussion: Which cousins does Rose admire and why? Does Charlie bring on his own misfortune? In our current age and country marrying a cousin is atypical, but in Rose’s time it was normal.
Jack and Jill is a lesser known novel by Alcott, but at least as wonderful as her more famous works. This is another thoughtful look at the long term consequences, good and bad, recklessness can have on the doer, the injured, their families, and a whole community. And also a simply fabulous story. Discussion: How does Jill suffer for her recklessnes? How does the free forgiveness offered her change her? How does God bring good out of her carelessness?
An Old-Fashioned Girl, a stand alone novel by Alcott, has a timely message about peer pressure and staying true to one’s values even when others see them as outdated. The heroine discovers compromising her values in order to fit in doesn’t gain her real happiness.
Have a tween who doesn’t want to read saint books? Check out my review of Catholic comic book The Saints Chronicles.
Fr. Francis Finn understood boys, and his books reflect his belief that though your average school boy is not a saint, he should strive to be one. His books are school stories about boys and for boys, complete with humor, adventure, fights, friendship, and forgiveness, and are overall imbued with a deeply Catholic worldview. His most well known trilogy begins with Tom Playfair: Or Making a Start, which is a story of a mischievous boy whose energy, when properly channeled, becomes fervor for Christ. The series continues with Percy Wynn or Making a Boy of Him, in which Tom helps teach a boy raised by his sisters about manly virtues, and Harry Dee: Or Working it Out.
Outlaws of Ravenhurst is a captivating adventure about a Scottish Catholic clan’s struggle for freedom to worship during a Catholic persecution. This inspiring story makes real the challenges and amazing faith and courage displayed by Catholics facing martyrdom. Note: These books will particularly resonate with boys, but girls love them too!
The Great and Terrible Quest was one of the most loved books in the large family I grew up in by both boys and girls. Young Trad, an orphan, risks his life to save and care for a wounded knight. The orphan and knight set out on a quest for something which the knight cannot remember. Bravery, sacrifice, love, redemption, and some fine storytelling make this story memorable.
The Good Bad Boy, by Fr. Brennan, is written as a diary detailing the everyday challenges and thoughts of a thirteen year old Catholic boy growing up in the mid twentieth century.
The Drovers Road Collection: Three New Zealand Adventures is an absolutely charming collection of anecdotes about a young girl growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Often funny, sometimes touching, with nuggets of true wisdom, these stories told by the poignant voice of young Gabrielle carry the message that life may look different on the other side of the world, but people love and learn just the same.
The Sherwood Ring is a unique combination of modern day mystery and historical fiction, with a touch of romance for good measure. This is just a well written, well researched, fun read.
Fabiola is an inspiring story about the early church during the Roman persecutions. Fabiola is a convert to Christianity whose faith is tested by fire. Cameos by popular early saints such as Sebastian add a true story feel to this Christian historical fiction.
The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is World War II historical fiction focused in a unique location: the Alpine region of Italy held by American forces. Twelve year old Chico knows the Americans are supposed to be his enemies, but ends up befriending a soldier, whose life he later saves with some help from a heroic little donkey and a creative Catholic monk.
Cleared for Action!: Four Tales of the Sea is a collection of four books by Stephen Meader, a fine author of historical fiction. These tales of courage and fortitude span fifty years of American history, including the Civil War, and are particularly interesting for boys.
Midshipman Quinn: Collection is a collection of four humorous, adventurous stories about nerdy Septimus Quinn who joins the British Royal Navy at age 15 in 1803. These historical fiction tales are made memorable by Quinn’s quirky, resourceful, ever-loyal personality.
Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is the first book in Ralph Moody’s masterful retelling of growing up in the western United States at the turn of the twentieth century. This series is in many ways a twentieth century equivalent of the Little House series. Moody has a captivating storytelling style which combines details about everyday life with an engaging overall plot. Our favorite books include The Home Ranch , in which Ralph spends a summer working as a hired hand on a ranch, and Shaking the Nickel Bush, in which a broke Ralph road trips through the west making money by sculpting bankers.
A majority of Catholic historical fiction focuses on male protagonists, so I am happy to add Madeleine Takes Command to this list. Teenage Madeleine shows true heroism as she takes command of the family stockade in New France and defends her people against the Iroquois.
The Red Keep is swashbuckling historical fiction set in twelfth century France. Young Conan is determined to save the Red Keep for its rightful owner, Lady Anne. Allen French writes enjoyable, engaging historical fiction. He also wrote The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow, which is a wonderful Viking-era story with a moral about sacrifice and redemption.
For your Egyptian historical fiction, I recommend Shadow Hawk and Mara, Daughter of the Nile . Court secrets, espionage, danger, a touch of romance: these books will hold a reader’s attention and stick in their memory.
Across Five Aprils is civil-war era historical fiction about young Jethro, who comes of age amidst the conflict of the War Between the States.
The Trumpeter of Krakow is an absorbing novel set in 1490s Poland. This story offersman interesting combination of legend with the real fact that to this day the trumpet is played on the hour in Krakow.
In World War II historical fiction, Escape from Warsaw will please boys and girls with its brother-sister protagonists. Set in the chaos accompanying the end of the war, three children must use courage and cooperation to escape Warsaw and travel across Europe to rejoin their parents.
Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction about Roman Briton are some of my favorite books to recommend. Sutcliff is both an enchanting storyteller and an excellent writer. You will leave with the feeling you have visited Briton and made a new cast of friends after reading The Eagle of the Ninth , The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers .
Taken by the Enemy is first in a fascinating series in that Oliver Optic wrote it soon after the Civil War, thus offering a unique historical perspective. This story of a teenage boy attempting to recover his sister from the south on the eve of the war is a tale of courage and family loyalty.
Fingal’s Quest by Madeleine Polland is a great coming of age story set against the backdrop of Irish monastic life in the sixth century. There are great thought provoking themes about what doing God’s will really means.
The Red Badge of Courage is a very well known Civil War historical fiction novel about a young man’s experience fighting in the Union Army. Memorable for its depiction of the horror of war, it is also offers a good storyline of character development through the young man’s personal battle againt cowardice.
In the realm of animal fiction, The Yearling is a famous book with its timeless themes of growing up and sacrifices. A bit sad, but a classic every young person should read.
One of my absolute favorite authors in animal fiction, Albert Payson Terhune writes with such evident affection for his beloved collie chums the reader inevitably falls in love too. His most famous book is Lad: A Dog, but he wrote equally wonderful stories about his other collie friends such as Bruce, Treve, and Gray Dawn.
How’s Inky? is the first of naturalist Sam Campbell’s books about his animal friends of the forest. Campbell combines funny anecdotes with a down to earth philosophy of life in these very enjoyable books.
Old Yeller is an American classic, comparable to The Yearling with its themes of growing up and responsibility. This is a poignant, tear-jerking story of love, loyalty, and making tough, right decisions.
The Incredible Journey is another animal story, this time about three determined pets whose loyalty and perseverance are tested on a trans-Canadian journey to find their owner. This is the book that inspired Homeward Bound.
Another classic boy-dog growing up story, Where the Red Fern Grows is the famous story of Billy and his two hounds growing up together in the Ozarks. By turns tragic and hopeful, this book is certainly worth reading for its themes of hard work, courage, perseverance, and faith.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is the touching life story of a horse, as told by Black Beauty himself. This story is sure to delight any young horse lover.
Loved by generations, Lassie Come-Home tells a story of loyalty and perseverance as Lassie crosses Scotland to find her master.
Pollyanna should be read for culturL literacy, but sometimes is read too young. The drama of Pollyanna not being wanted is rather heavy content for a young child, so I prefer waiting until this age when the reader can better understand that Pollyanna’s hardships are used as a foil to highlight her cheerfulness in adversity.
Henry Reed, Inc. is a simply hilarious book by Robert McCloskey about quirky Henry and sensible Midge, two all-American kids with big schemes enjoying summer in small town USA. The best part of this book is the creativity and resourcefulness these kids show. No wasting time in front of the TV here!
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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?