Cuddly animal babies and mothers bound through this lovely new picture book written especially to help mothers inculcate an understanding of boundless love in their children. As mothers read this book to their little ones over and over, children will hear the important message that they are “a masterpiece- God’s work of art” and “a special treasure.” They’ll feel secure and treasured knowing that both their mother and God love them without limits.
A Perfect Gift to Cherish
This sweet book would make a perfect gift for a Baby Shower, Baptism, Christmas or Birthday. There is space in the beginning for a commemorative inscription and a parent to write down their hopes for their child. In the back of the book are spaces for the parents to write down the meaning of the child’s name, a Bible verse for their life, and a prayer for their child.
A Lullaby, a Poem, a Story, a Memory
Whether you download the free song version of Mama, Sing My Song and play it for your child, sing this lullaby yourself, or read it aloud as a poem, your child will feel loved. I love that this book connects the sometimes distant and esoteric concept of God’s love with something even a tiny child understands: their mother’s love. Now they just need to write a version for fathers!
I may be a little late to the game with this review since Where the Crawdads Sing has been garnering attention for over 4 years now. I actually read it when it came out but wasn’t doing adult book reviews at that point. With the new movie bringing it to the top of best-seller lists again, I re-read and revisited my thoughts on this much-lauded book. As I re-read it (and stayed up too late) I remembered why it’s a bestseller. And then I remembered why I ended up hating it.
SPOILER ALERT: This review is going to utterly spoil the big reveal about the murder mystery. Sorry folks; I’m going to recommend against reading it anyway.
Busy Mom Quick Synopsis
6 year old Kya watches her mother, siblings, and father abandon her one after another. With minimal community support, she scratches out a precarious survival alone in the marsh. As she comes of age, she desperately seeks love and acceptance in the wrong places. A mysterious and isolated woman living alone in the swamp, the townspeople regard her with suspicion. When the town’s golden boy is murdered, fingers quickly begin to point Kya’s way. Does she have a single friend to defend her?
Why it’s a best-seller
First of all, it’s a beautifully written story about nature. That’s not a compliment I hand out lightly. Delia Owens must have a deep love of the flora and fauna of the North Carolina marshes. Her genuine delight in natural beauty and belief in the healing power of nature make this book memorable. As a fellow nature lover, I enjoyed her descriptions of the wonder of God’s creation.
Secondly, it’s a heart-warming story. An abandoned young girl from an abusive family beats the odds to educate herself and build a successful career as a writer and illustrator. It’s the stuff of Hallmark movies and human interest articles. Honestly, it’s so far-fetched it strains credibility.
Third, it’s a fast-moving storyline with a murder mystery intertwined. It keeps you turning the pages after your bedtime.
Why I don’t recommend Where the Crawdads Sing
First and foremost, skip this book because of the gratuitous sex scenes. There are multiple fade-out to fully described scenes, some with an underage teen Kya, along with a rape scene. Can you skip over them fairly easily? Yes, you see where the scene is going and can skip a few pages. Did they need to be in this book? Nope. They add nothing to the story and feel voyeuristic. And they definitely make this book a hard no for teens.
On a more philosophical level, I disliked the theme about people being fundamentally highly evolved animals. Kay interprets human interactions in animal terms, perhaps not completely unnaturally given her isolated life. But the author does not lead the reader to the conclusion that Kya is wrong here. Kya’s morality is a Darwinistic survival of the fittest code of ethics. And this leads to the ending, which I hated.
Throughout the book, the big conflict is whether Kya is guilty of the blatant murder of her former boyfriend Chase. As the reader, you’re assuming soft-spoken and nature-loving Kya is innocent. You’re condemning the townspeople for prejudice and judgment against an eccentric outlier. When her lawyer brings forward enough doubt to convince a jury to acquit her, you’re cheering.
But then… the last pages of the book, you realize she did it. She cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of the ex-boyfriend who lied to and later attacked her. Was he a horrible human being? Yes. Does this make me feel any better about the “heroine” murdering him with full intent and not in self-defense? No.
What bothered me most about this jarring conclusion was the feeling that throughout the entire book, the author is trying to set up the reader to condone the murder. It’s like Delia Owens is trying to have the reader walk away going, “Well, maybe murder is okay, sometimes.”
Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees
There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.
Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!
In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.
The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.
A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.
Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.
There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.
In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.
Clean and Charming
The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.
Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven
Last fall, my family “discovered” Blessed Carlo Acutis through a Holy Heroes Glory Story CD. We learned about this amazing youth who managed to accomplish so much in just fifteen short years of life. My kids were enthralled not only by how young he was but how recently he had lived and how similar his life was to theirs. He died only a few years before they were born! He wore jeans! He used a computer!
A Saint for 21st Century Kids
My kids aren’t the only ones who love Blessed Carlo and feel an instant connection to his story. This young man is inspiring kids around the world as his story spreads. Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven is a brand-new book by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi. Drawing on Church documents and interviews, especially personal interviews with Carlo’s mother, Ferrisi retells Carlo’s life story. Kids (and adults!) can learn about his Eucharistic devotion, charity work, favorite pets, love for computer programming and film making, and much more!
But Ferrisi also includes an explanation of the official path to a declaration of sainthood. Kids will learn about the 3 stages on the way and what is required at each stage. They’ll be even more amazed that Carlo was declared a Blessed less than 15 years after his death!
There’s also plenty of color photos of Carlo, his family, and more for kids who love visuals.
Who Will Enjoy This Book?
Target age: middle grades through high school. But younger kids will enjoy hearing parts of the book read aloud, especially if they’re already familiar with Blessed Carlo’s life from Glory Stories. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly as an adult. I was touched and inspired by Blessed Carlo’s love for both God and neighbor. This young Blessed’s life truly exemplifies the two great commandments!
You can order your copy of Blessed Carlo Acutis from publisher Holy Heroes. Enter the discount cod CARLO15 to get 15% off your purchase to celebrate this new relase!
No affiliate link here, just a really awesome saint and story I wanted to share!
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager” in Heaven in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
For more of my favorite books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!
An immediate national bestseller, Station Eleven is a contemporary dystopia by Emily St. John Mandel. After a flu pandemic destroys 99% of the world’s population, most of the remnant live in small survival-focused communities. But not all. The Traveling Symphony travels around the Midwestern United States performing classical music and Shakespeare plays. Because “Survival is insufficient.” The real magic of this book is in its presentation of the truth that art and beauty and culture are worth preserving even in the darkest of times.
Art and Beauty Matter
What made this book memorable was the fundamental truth that even in extreme circumstances, beauty and truth shine through. The post-pandemic world depicted in Station Eleven is bleak, ruthless, and uncivilized. In stark contrast to the overall darkness of a collapsed world, the truth and beauty in Shakespeare and classical symphonies shine forth and touch the hearts of everyone who hears the Traveling Symphony’s performances.
Likewise, the beauty of friendships and family are a powerful theme in Station Eleven. This is where we’ll find happiness in a dystopian world, the novel teaches, whether it’s siblings saving each other during the early days of the pandemic, loyal friends risking their lives for each other, or simply a father baking bread for his children.
But Goodness Should Also Matter
And here’s where the book loses its moral compass. Starting with a glitteringly beautiful premise about beauty and truth redeeming a dark world, Station Eleven loses its way in the moral morass of twenty-first century subjectivism and social agendas.
The biggest problem is the depiction of religion as a path to insanity and evil. The “Prophet” is a mentally unbalanced polygamist and killer who hunts the Traveling Symphony. This Bible-quoting villain is Station Eleven‘s one and only religious character or reference point.
On the other hand, all the “good” characters live according to their own moral systems- which are predictably modern and anti-traditional morality. The members of the Traveling Symphony engage in various extra-marital relationships. There’s a homosexual character who keeps bemoaning his dead boyfriend, which is so unnecessary to the plot and character the “normalizing” agenda just screams through.
Suicide is held up as an acceptable alternative to living in a difficult world. A disabled character kills himself to make it easier for his brother to survive.
Should I Read It?
Maybe. For all it’s problems, Station Eleven is a well-plotted and thought-provoking story. There’s a lot of shaky morality, but I will give the author credit for refraining from including any sex scenes whatsoever. That’s actually pretty unusual for a contemporary book in this genre.
If you’re wondering about violence: yes, there’s some violence. Members of the Traveling Symphony defend themselves against the Prophet’s men on a few occasions. Somewhat graphic descriptions of wounds, but on the positive side a main character talks about the gravity of killing, how it haunts you forever, how awful if it has to be done even in self-defense.
If you are an adult who enjoy dystopias and you don’t mind sifting through the author’s anti-religious views, you may find Station Eleven worth the time and even moving. But I definitely do not recommend this book for teens or those who are just looking for a “good, clean book.”
If you’re going for it, here’s a link to buy it through my affiliate link: Station Eleven
With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.
Fahrenheit 451 is timely
For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!
Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.
Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.
The Power of History and Education
Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.
But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.
A Warning and a Hope
Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.
Older Teens Should Read It
Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.
The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.
Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)
But Also Adults
But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.
Amor Towles is a contemporary American novelist whose historical fiction has been topping charts in recent years. He’s notable for his ability to capture the spirit and emotional quality of a time and place in his novels. I think his second book in particular has the staying power and universal appeal which will make it stand the test of time.
Rules of Civility
Towles’ first book, Rules of Civility, plunges the reader into 1938 New York City nightlife. Katy, a secretary with social ambition, rides the ebb and flow of New York social life, rubbing elbows with millionaires, playboys, and beggars. A coming of age, rise and fall type of story.
I appreciate how Towles captures the spirit of his historical setting. The reader feels a part of the aimless, pleasure-seeking New York nightlife scene of the rich and troubled.
Content: promiscuous relationships, a man engaging in sexual relationships with women for their money, the main character engaging in a sexual relationship with a man she doesn’t love. Their is some explicit sexual content and some fade outs.
Recommended reading age: adult only, and you’re not missing much by skipping this one.
A Gentleman in Moscow
Simply put: I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. This one is in a whole other class than Towles’ other two novels.
This may be because it’s got a unique storyline going for it. In 1922 amidst the outbreak of the communist revolution, aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov is placed on house arrest in the attic of the Metropol, a magnificent hotel across the street from the Kremlin. The entire book takes place in the Metropol. You’ll meet an unforgettable cast of characters who live in the hotel. You’ll learn how Rostov keeps his sanity for decades of imprisonment. You’ll learn about Russian cuisine and etiquette and emotions. You’ll fall in love with the Metropol and Rostov’s adopted family there. There’s even a devious villain to hate. This is a beautiful, lyrically told, memorable story.
Content: Rostov eventually begins an affair with a famous actress. Although it’s clear they are engaging in a sexual relationship, there is nothing too explicit or offensive.
The Lincoln Highway is the poignant story of a wide cast of characters who are brought together in one memorable road trip along the Lincoln Highway, the first continental highway. A young man released from prison early, his bookish little brother, his estranged sweetheart, his two escaped prison buddies, their families, the drifters they meet… this book peeks through the windows of their lives in mid-twentieth century America.
This is not an easy book to read. There’s death: intended and unintended. There’s manslaughter and straight up murder and suicide. There’s mental illness and child abandonment and sin and broken families. But there’s also friendship and sacrifice and glimpses of hope. Once again, Towles manages to capture the emotional atmosphere of a particular place and time.
Content: one unfortunate (and needless) description of a “circus” at a brothel with naked women riding horses and other scantily clad women. One teenage boy tries to force another to go to bed with a prostitute.
Discover Freedom Island, where “The Brave” citizens fight against the villains who strive to take away their freedoms and corrupt their culture.
This new series presents issues like Communism, Critical Race Theory, the Sanctity of Life, and 2nd Amendment Rights in a way that 4-10 year olds can understand. Each book contains an animal story in the time-honored tradition of Aesop.
An animal on Freedom Island confronts a tricky situation in each book. For example, in “Elephants are Not Birds” Kevin the elephant loves to sing. A “friend” suggests that this means he is actually a bird. But will trying to be a bird make Kevin happy and fulfilled and free?
In “The Island of Free Ice Cream,” the animals of Freedom Island discover that when something is presented as “free” they need to be skeptical. In “Little Lives Matter” Mother Bear refuses to give up on her disabled bear cub Mobi. And when she is old he won’t give up on her either. In “Paws off My Cannon,” the animals keep losing their cupcakes to the aggressive hyenas and can’t agree on whether the cannons or the hyenas are the problem until they try an experiment.
A story, games, missions, and more!
Each book contains a story, family or classroom game ideas, missions, discussion points for further clarification, and more! There’s even a giant map of the island so you can really immerse your kids in the “Brave” universe. These books would be great to use as a framework for a weekly or monthly class. I think they’re best for 6-10 year olds although a mature 4-5 year old would also understand most of the stories.
So far, there are 7 books in the The Brave series with many more planned. This is an inspiring effort by a collaboration of established writers and media figures who believe strongly in core American values and freedoms. There is no specific political agenda being pushed here per se. Rather, the focus is on individual issues such as sanctity of life, cancel culture, truth, gender identity, and so forth.
The author and publisher clearly put a lot of thought and work into creating a quality teaching product with Brave Books. I think you’ll be impressed!
You can order Brave Books as a monthly subscription or as single books through the publisher: Brave Books.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Saga One from Brave Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Have you ever heard of the only approved American apparition of Our Lady?
I’d read about Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe with my kids. All the famous apparitions. But when it came to our own country, I knew just enough to know that there had been an American apparition in Wisconsin, but that was it. If your family is like mine, you’ll be as excited as we were to learn more about the apparitions and miracles right here in our own country! Let me tell you about Champions of the Rosary, a new historical fiction novel from author Laurie Schmitt.
In 1859, Our Lady appeared to a young girl named Adele Brise in Wisconsin.
Our Lady asked Adele to pray and teach the children in rural Wisconsin their Catechism. A convent and Chapel were eventually built to fulfil the request of Our Lady of Good Help, as this apparition was dubbed. And did she ever help the people of Wisconsin! This book recounts the miracles that occurred at the apparition site in future years such as miraculous healings.
The most stunning miracle occurred during the terrible Peshtigo Fire of 1871. As thousands of acres around burned, then-Sister Adele led the local people in a rosary procession around the grounds of the convent. Miraculously, the convent acreage was completely spared: a verdant green island in the midst of hundreds of miles of devastation on all sides.
This is a beautiful story about a family struggling through tough times and turning to Our Lady for hope and healing.
It’s also an intense story since the backdrop is the Peshtigo Fire which ravaged the countryside (I recommend for ages 10 and up). Tweens and teens will be caught up in the drama of a natural disaster unfolding while also learning about this beautiful apparition with a message of hope for our country.
If you’re as excited to read this book as my family was, I have good news: I’m giving away FREE copies of Champions of the Rosary and Laurie Schmitt’s other historical fiction novel, Lepanto’s Lady!
Lepanto’s Lady is another great historical fiction novel with a Marian theme. In Lepanto’s Lady, watch the events of the momentous Battle of Lepanto unfold through the eyes of young Rosa. Learn about the origins of the October 8th feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
In the spirit of the Year of St. Joseph, here’s a new Christmas story for your family about Joseph’s Donkey.
From the author and illustrator that brought us the beautiful and bestselling Our Lady’s Wardrobe and Our Lady’s Picture Book, here’s a brand new book to put under your Christmas tree this year!
Joseph’s Donkey is a gorgeously illustrated story about the gentle earthly father of Jesus and his equally quiet and noble helper. See the events of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, the Christ Child’s childhood, Egypt and back again, and the quiet years at Nazareth through the eyes of this gentle donkey.
Little children will love the detailed depictions of the Holy Family’s life and affection for one another.
The gentle, rhythmic poem captures the spirit of these years of peace and harmony. Sometimes we forget the decades of silence before Jesus began his public ministry!
Animal loving children will also love the pictures of a young Jesus with his donkey.
Death and New Life
The story concludes with the death of the donkey at an advanced age. I’ve noticed a theme in Anthony DeStefano’s books: he wants children to experience death as an opening of the eyes to a richer, brighter new life. Like the Seed in The Seed Who was Afraid to Be Planted, Joseph’s donkey falls asleep to wake to a more beautiful world than he had ever imagined.
If you love St. Joseph, you’ll enjoy this lovely and luminous book!