Good Fairy Tales, Fables, and Tall Tales for Catholic Kids

From ancient times onward, parents and grandparents have passed on their wisdom to the next generations through fairy tales, tall tales, fables, and cautionary tales. Each culture has its own special stories, such as the American tall tales, while other stories such as Cinderella are told by many cultures with their own variations. Here are some of my favorite picture book versions of fairy tales, fables, and tall tales both  old and new, renowned and little known, from around the world.


I love the gorgeous illustrations and Medieval manuscript letters in this beautiful version of Sleeping Beauty!


In this version of The Princess and the Pea, the queen and king get a slightly larger role than usual. The side banter between the queen and her son is amusing, and the illustrations take pride of place.


This beautiful version of Rapunzel is so vividly illustrated the witch may scare you! I think it uniquely captures the mixed love and hate the witch has for Rapunzel.


We enjoy this Spanish American version of the classic Cinderella story. Little Gold Star brings a Catholic flavor to this familiar favorite with Marian intercession taking the place of the fairy godmother.


My other favorite retelling of the Cinderella story is Jan Brett’s imaginative chicken-themed version: Cinders. The accurate depictions of a brood of bantam hens are amazingly detailed and gorgeous.


But, if you want the classic, simple Cinderella story, Marcia Brown’s Cinderella is what you’re looking for!


The charming illustrations in this edition of Little Red Riding Hood contrast with this rather dark cautionary tale. True to the original Grimm fairy tale, the wolf eats Red Riding Hood and her Grandma. But in the end, the woodsman cuts them out and saves the day!


E. Nesbit’s fanciful chapter books are favorites of mine, so I am happy to include her retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk on this list. She omits some of the more grisly details of the original tale, but adds in her unique touch with explanations of details such as why Jack’s shutters don’t work.


The Adventures of Brer Rabbit and Friends is a clever retelling of the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus tales. My children love this collection of ten of Harris’ funniest tales, complete with plenty of onomatopoeia and wonderful illustrations on every page.


With The Firebird, you have at once a fairy tale and a ballet (by Igor Stravinsky). This version of the fairy tale contains both a depiction of the ballet and a gorgeous fanciful illustration on each page. Caveat that the evil wizard villain in the story is quite disturbing looking and might terrify very young children.


Another Russian fairy tale of the quest genre, the The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring has some of the most magnificently done illustrations. This tale is about an exciting quest and the winning of a princess, yet also raises questions about listening to your conscience versus blind obedience.


A third Russian folk tale we enjoy is The Magic Nesting Doll. On her deathbed, Katya’s grandma bequeaths her a magic nesting doll which contains animals that will help her break the spell which binds her kingdom in a dark, icy winter. This story has a touch of Narnia and a touch of Sleeping Beauty.


Arthur Ransome’s retelling of The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale deserves a place in any library. My children find this tale about how God watches out for simple folk both funny and inspiring.


The Legend of the Bluebonnet is a sad but beautiful story of self-sacrifice. A little Indian girl gives up her one cherished toy to save her people from famine.


The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is an old folk tale about finding and pursuing your own particular calling. A young Indian boy feels more drawn to painting the scenes around him then joining in usual hunting activities of his friends.


We love our American Tall Tales, especially Steven Kellog’s fun editions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Johnny Appleseed. His detail-rich illustration style brings a wealth of amusing tidbits to these already entertaining tales.


Stone Soup is an old French folk tale about some smart soldiers who outwit a village of selfish people. A lesson in sharing.


Tikki Tikki Tembo has a fun rhythmic cadence that children love. An old Chinese folk tale, it cautions against giving children very, very, very long names.


The Mitten by Jan Brett is a retelling of a Ukranian folk tale, complete with wonderfully realistic illustrations.


The Ugly Duckling is a favorite fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson. The theme of not judging someone by their outward appearance has a timeless appeal, and Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations bring this story to life in a powerful way.


The Pancake Boy is a fun Norwegian version of the tale Americans recognize more readily as “The Gingerbread Man.” In the Norwegian version, a pig devours the gullible Pancake Boy in the end!


Speaking of Gingerbread Baby, we love Jan Brett’s version of this favorite folk tale.


Honey… Honey… Lion! has all of Jan Brett’s trademark attention to detail and beautiful illustrations. In this African tale, Honey Badger learns the hard way not to be selfish and hog all the honey!


The 3 Little Dassies  is an African-themed version of the classic Three Little Pigs tale. Jan Brett uses vivid colors and a variety of desert creatures to bring this story to life in a new way.


Speaking of old tales, The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables is a beautiful version of the traditional fables from the ancient world. Each fable has a wonderful painting to accompany it which captures children’s eyes while a parents reads the fable.


Though a pricey investment, My Book House contains an amazing array of folk tales, fairy tales, and legends from around the world.

Review of “The Mysterious Benedict Society”

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 ThingsEthics 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!

UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIPS

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!

OVERCOMING FEARS

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?

RECOMMENDATIONS

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.

Good Picture Books about Lent and Easter for Catholic Kids

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.


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, stressing 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.

 

 

 

 

 


The Legend of the Easter Robin: An Easter Story of Compassion and Faith is a charming story about compassion and trusting God. A little girl learns to trust God through uncertainty as her Grandmother teaches her the legend of the Easter robin.

 

 


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 of what happened, then a personal prayer to encourage the child to speak straight to Jesus.

 

 

 

 


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.

 

 


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.

 

 

 

 


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.

 

 

 

 


Rechenka’s Eggs is a story about giving, friendship, and how eggs are a sign of the miracle of new life.

Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic Kids

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.

 

 

 

 


Pauline Press is coming out with its own series of graphic novels based on the lives of popular saints with books like Legend of Saint Christopher and  and Saint Clare 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.”

Good Books for… Catholic 8 to 9 year olds 

There are so many wonderful children’s books for 8 to 9 year olds. They can enjoy reading for themselves many books read aloud to them at 6 or 7, but also have the excitement of reading new books for the first time by themselves. I still strongly believe in reading aloud to children at this age, so I will note some books on this list that may be more appropriate to read aloud. Also, children this age will enjoy hearing books on my family read alouds list.

The Ordinary Princess is the perfect princess story to teach ordinary girls that they can still be princesses. Her royal highness Princess Amethyst, or Amy as she prefers to be called, leaps from the pages, brown haired, freckled, and determined to go play in the woods rather than settle down to sewing tapestries. Amy learns about hard work, perseverance, simple pleasures and even finds true love with a prince as unusual as she is. The ordinary princess turns out to be an extraordinary person. Every little girl should read this book!

A Life of Our Lord for Children is a wonderful book by Marigold Hunt which will invite your child to meditate on the life of Christ. This book offers explanations of confusing parts of the Gospels, and is written in a friendly, conversational style.

Catechism of the Seven Sacraments is a great option for boys who are a bit resistant to sitting down and reading heavy theology! My son loves this comic book style version of the Catechism. This book is jam-packed full of gems of theology such as the Four Cups, Divine Mercy, and so much more!

Sixty Saints for Girls> is the Catholic saint version of princess tales for little girls. Joan Windham does not strive for historical accuracy, but rather to share legends and the essence of sainthood, which is serving God through heroic virtue. Girls will be inspired by these stories of female saints throughout the ages.

Sixty Saints for Boys is the boy equivalent of Windham’s book for girls. Again, talk to your children about how these stories are not meant to be taken as historically accurate in every detail, but rather as inspiring legends based on the facts of the saints holy lives.

An Extraordinary Friend: The Adventures of Jamie and Bella is the first in a series of exciting adventure stories written by a Catholic priest. They are fun to read, yet offer a Catholic perspective on every day events. Each book has thought-provoking questions at the end for your child to think about or discuss with a parent.

Freddy the Detective is a funny mystery featuring Freddy the Pig, the hero of a whole series of once popular and sadly forgotten children books. Freddy is inspired by Sherlock Holmes to attempt solving crimes, but finds the justice process more complex than he anticipated. This book introduces children to the concepts of justice, trials, and even jurisprudence. A wonderful read aloud, it is also possible for an 8 to 10 year old to read on their own. If you love Freddy, the literate pig, read more about him inFreddy Plays Football.

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes: Stories of Catholic Heroes and Saints throughout History is a wonderful book by Amy Welborn that will inspire your children with stories about modern saints and blesseds. For even more saints stories, check out its companion book Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, by the wonderful Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, is the story of funny, spunky, unnaturally. strong Pippi and her very normal friends Tommy and Anneka. Pippi is an orphan who lives alone and does just as she pleases, which is an interesting idea to a child, but behind the fun and adventures, Lindgren is careful to show how Pippi misses her parents and struggles to live a normal life without them. Their are also great themes of friendship, loyalty, generosity, cheerfulness, and kindness in these books.

A lesser known but in my opinion even more enjoyable series by Lindgren is The Children of Noisy Village. Nine year old Lisa will captivate your child with her stories of life in her tiny Swedish village. A great introduction to the country of Sweden and exposure to Swedish customs, and overall just a fun read. There are two further books about Noisy Village: Happy Times in Noisy Village and Christmas in Noisy Village .

Sid Fleischman’s The Whipping Boy was clearly inspired by Mark Twain’s The Prince and Pauper. It is a hilarious story of traded identities, unlikely friendship, and loyalty.

McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales offers more hilarity from Sid Fleischman. McBroom and his large family find happiness in farm life on one miraculously fertile acre. Fanciful and fun, the cheerfulness and teamwork make these tall tales worthwhile reading.

Saint Brendan And The Voyage Before Columbus is a short book with the interesting tale of Saint Brendan, who legend says voyaged to America before Columbus. The moral is that all adventures can bring us closer to God.

Did you know that Ian Fleming of James Bond fame wrote one children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car? This fanciful adventure story about a car that can talk, fly, and sail and its mission to stop a gang of robbers is quite different than the storyline of the popular old movie with the same title, but I enjoyed the book more! This is a classic adventure of good versus evil, justice being achieved, and friendship.

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books are charming stories about the friendship and adventures of three little girls. These books follow Betsy, Tacy, and Tib from age 5 up through adulthood, so I would only recommend these first four books for 8 to 9 year olds.

A Lion to Guard Us is War for Independence (Revolutionary War) era historical fiction about three children venturing across the Atlantic Ocean in search of their father. Many good themes about perseverance, courage, and responsibility can be gleaned.

The Secret Valley is not just an interesting historical fiction story about the California gold rush. More importantly, it is a story about greed versus need, and wishes coming true in unexpected ways.

Lion in the Box by the wonderful Marguerite De Angeli, is a Christmas story about a poor family struggling to make ends meet. A good reminder for children that some people live in poverty, but still a happy ending thanks to an unexpected gift.

Another thought provoking book by Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall tells the story of Robin, a boy in the fourteenth century who loses the use of his legs. A monk rescues the boy and teaches him that life can still be meaningful for a cripple. This gem has so many good lessons about patience, courage, compassion, and hard work.

Almost everything by Marguerite de Angeli is worth reading, but I will limit my list to one more of her works. Skippack School tells about the life of a German immigrant boy starting school in America. As always with de Angeli, you get lovely illustrations and many good themes about hard work, patience, perseverance, and kindness.

The Family from One End Street is a collection of stories about the seven children of a large family living in small town America in the 1930’s. The family is very poor, but the lesson that money does not determine happiness shines forth in these funny, touching stories of large family life.

Lost in Peter’s Tomb is the first in a series of books by Catholic author Dianne Ahern that feature Sister Philomena, both nun and special investigator for the pope. Although I don’t love Ahern’s use of the present tense in her books, she does offer a wealth of information about Rome, the pope, Assisi, Siena, and many other Catholic tidbits that your child will not learn or retain as easily elsewhere. So, I consider these fun little mysteries worthwhile reading.

Beverly Cleary’s books have delighted children for a few generations now. There are a lot of titles, but Henry and Ribsy is one of my favorites because it is told from the dog’s perspective. Any animal lover is sure to love reading the touching story of Ribsy’s scrapes and delights. I do not recommend investing in all of Cleary’s books since I find her characters do not consistently show growth in virtue, but this book is worth reading.

“B” Is for Betsy is the first in a series of books written by Carolyn Haywood in the 1940’s but still relatable and enjoyable today. Children will connect with Betsy’s struggles and victories in starting school, making friends, and growing up. The children in these books show kindness, compassion, and friendship.

Carolyn Haywood also wrote a series featuring a boy, Penny, so nicknamed because his hair is red as a penny. Here’s a Penny is the first in this series about the adventures and struggles of this adopted boy. Again, you get children who show kindness and true friendship in these sweet stories.

Alice Dagleish wrote two wonderful books about the nature of courage, one featuring a boy and one a girl. The Courage of Sarah Noble is the story of little Sarah’s journey through the forest with her father to find a new home, and her gradual discovery that courage is not a lack of fear, but rather bravery in the midst of fear.

Boys will particularly identify with Jonathan in Dagleish’s The Bears on Hemlock Mountain as he sets out alone across the mountain to fetch a pot from his aunts house. He shows courage and perseverance on his trek and proves that there are indeed bears on hemlock mountain.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle understands children because she likes them! She is the grandma-figure extraordinaire whose house is children’s heaven, and always has sage advice for overwhelmed parents. Tucked in these humorous tales are morals children will glean: don’t be a picky eater, listen to your parents, clean up your room, and so on.

The Happy Hollisters is the first in a long series of mysteries featuring the Hollister family. Each book features the large Hollister family who exemplify cheerfulness and teamwork as they help others by solving mysteries. I strongly believe mysteries are important for children to read becuse they instill a strong thirst for justice and interest in problem solving.

The Boxcar Children Books 1-4 are fun, easy to read mysteries about four siblings, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Bennie. The later books in the series fall off greatly in quality, but the original books by Gertrude Warner from the 1940s are enjoyable classic children’s stories of a simpler life in the first half of the twentieth century before computers and cell phones. There are good lessons about responsibility, perseverance, resourcefulness, and kindness. Prepare to be amazed at the ingenuity of four children making a home in an old boxcar. Journey with the Aldens to Surprise Island for a unique tropical vacation and find a castaway. These were my very favorite books at this age!

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is an American classic about Mr. Popper, a housepainter, and the escepades of his penguins. Funny and touching both, this is a book about dreams coming true, showing both the good and bad consequences.

The Bobbsey Twins In and Out and its sequels are fun mystery stories featuring two sets of twins. They provide a picture of middle class life in the first half of the twentieth century, complete with African American servants, so a gentle discussion about that subject would be appropriate before handing this over for your children to enjoy.