Review of “Shadow in the Dark”

Shadow in the Dark book cover. Catholic book review.

Step straight into Medieval England as you open Shadow in the Dark, the first volume in a brand new series by Antony Kolenc. With a meticulous attention to the historical setting and thoughtful insight into Medieval Catholicism, Kolenc weaves a fascinating and exciting tale. The story begins with young Xan’s dramatic conflict with a band of robbers, which results in Xan losing his family, memory, and feeling of identity. While packing in plenty of action, what makes Shadow in the Dark really stand out among middle grade historical fiction is Xan’s insightful search for the meaning of his suffering and journey of faith.

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What is Identity?

12 year old Xan loses his memory completely at the beginning of the book which leads him to question who he is, and seek a purpose in life. Although most tweens and young teens don’t have to deal with amnesia, they will identify with Xan’s quest to define himself and his place in life. A major theme in Shadow in the Dark is Xan’s quest for identity. He looks to his new “family” of monks at Hardwell Abbey for assistance in his search.

A wise nun tells him: “If you find our purpose- where you fit into this new life of yours- then you will find your joy again.” One of the monks suggests that Xan may find meaning in learning to read and write and study. Later, Xan begins to see himself as an integral part of God’s plan for the Abbey: the boy who can solve the mystery. When Xan begins to see himself as following God’s plan, he begins to find peace. This message about identity being found in your vocation, in doing God’s will, is a great one for young teens to read!

Meaning in Suffering

Twined with Xan’s search for meaning is his struggle to understand his own suffering: why did his parents die? Why did he lose his memory? Difficult questions, and Shadow in the Dark doesn’t give a trite answer. Eventually, with prayer and thought, Xan accepts that his parents are in heaven and, in a way, better off, though he will always miss them. As he sees his purpose in God’s plan for the Abbey, he begins to glimpse meaning in his own suffering. The question of suffering is another great subject for tweens and teens to begin to ponder, since this is an inevitable question in any Christian’s life.

Bullying and Friendship

When Xan joins the other orphan boys at the Abbey, he immediately runs afoul of the bully, John. Shadow in the Dark does a wonderful job depicting Xan’s initial attempts to avoid trouble and eventual rise to the occasion to protect the younger boys. Even better, Xan later works as a peacemaker and gives John a role in solving the Abbey mystery. In the end, Xan and John are striking up a friendship.

Reading Historical Fiction Critically

Although I loved Shadow in the Dark as a whole, there are a few points parents may want to be aware of for an advance discussion with their children. Author Kolenc definitely agrees with this; he provides a handy preface that encourages his young readers to notice historical differences in practice and attitude and evaluate whether these differences are positive or negative. For example, there’s one old monk who has special permission from his Abbot to engage in self flagellation to unite himself with Christ’s sufferings. The other monks emphasize that this is a “dangerous” practice and only to be undertaken with special permission from a religious superior.

Emotional Cliff Hanger Conclusion

Although I loved the emphasis on identity and meaning in suffering, and Xan grew a lot over the course of the book, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey! In the poignant conclusion, Xan witnesses the Abbot forgive and spare the life of a bandit. This bandit not only tried to kill the Abbot, but is also responsible for the death of Xan’s parents and many others. The Abbot, with infinite wisdom and holiness, extends forgiveness and touches the bandit’s heart, moving him to repentance. However, Xan, furious still about his parents’ deaths, feels no forgiveness towards the man who is responsible. Clearly, Xan still has a long way to go on his spiritual journey! Hopefully the second volume will follow soon so we can find out how he learns to forgive!

Great for the Middle Grades

5th-8th grade tweens and teens will enjoy this masterfully constructed historical fiction novel. There’s adventure, there’s mystery, there’s justice, there’s friendship. Xan is a relatable hero grappling with common coming of age problems. The overall positive depiction of a medieval Abbey as a center of learning and charitable works is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the future volumes in this series!

Shadow in the Dark is available for pre-order now!

I received a copy of “Shadow in the Dark” from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Book cover "Shadow in the Dark" book review Catholic kids

Review of “The Princess Diaries”

Princess Diaries review book cover

This book starts out with an epigraph from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is a true classic about acting like a princess inside even in the worst of circumstances. Unfortunately, The Princess Diaries does not live up to the epigraph or remotely inspire princess-like behavior in its young audience. I really dislike it when books marketed for tweens and young teens are full of sexual content, so prepare for a rant!

The premise

This diary is clearly intended to appeal to the 12-14 year old crowd. It’s the secret musings of Mia, a 14 year old high school freshman with tough hair and a phlegmatic personality. Used to hanging out with the school misfits, Mia becomes unexpectedly popular when she finds out she’s actually a European princess. Positives in this book? There are some basic positive themes about good friendships and anti-bullying and Mia is a reasonably likeable heroine.

But really, who wants their 12 year old reading about sex stuff?

This book is chock full of a completely unnecessary amount of content focused on sex. For example, right off the bat Mia speculates about her mother’s new boyfriend: “he’s not so cool if he’s sticking his tongue in your mom’s mouth.” Mia goes on to wish that the cool boy in school would put his tongue in her mouth though. Throughout the book, Mia spends a lot of time thinking about whether her mom is sleeping with her new boyfriend, and at one point does discover him in her apartment in boxers.

Another highlight is a long conversation between Mia, her best friend Lilly, and Lilly’s 18 year old brother. They talk about condoms and spermicidal fluid, losing their virginity, and who they’d choose to have sex with if they were the last person alive.

Other highlights include joking about her best friend’s brother sexually harassing her, and also Mia brushing off a creepy blind guy who gropes her as unimportant. Mia also laughs at herself for not knowing what “frenching” was when she was 11, like her cousin did. At one point, Mia’s grandmother the Princess Dowager calls her a hooker. At another point Mia describes a woman who inspired her; the inspiring part seems to be that the woman has plastic surgery lips made from her vagina.

What’s the big deal with lying again?

Like other modern “children’s” books, The Princess Diaries sadly normalizes lying and deception as a part of life. Mia frequently lies to her parents. At first, she tells herself in her diary to “stop lying.” But then she seems to “grow” in her view on lying and her self-coaching becomes: “tell the truth except when doing so would hurt someone’s feelings.” And later, “stop lying, and/or think of better lies.”

Political Bent

Another issue of note is Mia’s rather anti-religion, “open-minded” worldview. She admires Madonna because she “revolutionized” fashion by dancing in front of burning crosses and “wasn’t afraid to make the Pope mad.” Mia is proud that she refuses to go to church because she “refused to pray to a god who would allow rain forests to be destroyed in order to make grazing room for cows who would later become Quarter Pounders.”

Mia is also anti-gun, and pro-propaganda. She tells her readers that a stalker is allowed to buy a machine gun “in this country thanks to our totally unrestrictive gun laws.” Fact check: you can’t just buy a machine gun in America. That’s been illegal since 1986.

Mia’s a proud child of divorce. She lives primarily with her doting Bohemian mother and spends summers with her filthy rich royal father. Her parents are friendly to each other, but Mia confides that “things would majorly suck, I think, if they lived together.” She’s “perfectly happy” with her divorced parents.

Turning over in her grave

I doubt that Frances Hodgson Burnett and her heroine Sara are grateful for the tributary epigraph, which really doesn’t fit this teen novel. Unlike Sara, who strives to be a princess, Mia spends most of the book either complaining and acting out because she’s a princess or obsessing about boys and sex. I found little to redeem this book. It really reads like an intentional attempt to indoctrinate young girls into a certain political and sexual mindset.

There are so many better princess books out there! Shannon Hale’s fantastic Princess Academy series is a great example of a modern princess book which focuses on female friendships, sacrifices, and coming of age.

For other worthwhile Princess books, check out this list!

For better romances for teens, check out this list!

Review of “Catholic Children’s Treasure Box” Series

 The Treasure Box books are a sweetly illustrated, old-timey series reprinted by Tan Books. Dating back to the 1950s, the Treasure Box series was published as a Catholic children’s magazine. Written and edited by the Maryknoll Sisters, this series is a throwback to a more innocent time in primarily good but occasionally troublesome ways.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

The Positives

Following in the steps of the Good Shepherd, Treasure Box uses original parables to teach Catholic doctrine and virtues in a way a 3-6 year old can readily understand. For example, one story is about a rich, selfish man who dreams he goes to heaven and finds his clothing there tattered and holey because of his selfish behavior on earth. Other stories have messages about lying, rumors, hard work, honoring the elderly, and stewardship.

Each Treasure Box has an installment in at least one or two serial-style stories, which kids love to follow from volume to volume. My kids’ favorite serial describes the efforts of a charming guardian angel to care for his young African charge and bring missionaries to his remote village. This serial has some great themes about spiritual warfare, supporting missionaries, and devotion to your guardian angel. Other serials follow St. Therese of Lisieux, the story of Creation, and the story of the Holy Family.

Each Treasure Box contains a fun nostalgic section of toy-free play activities, games, and crafts with everyday items. There are also a short poetry selection, fun rhymes, and prayers. Each volume is full of beautiful illustrations and vintage charm.

The Negatives

Overall, we love the Treasure Box books, but there are a few areas where the old-school flavor isn’t an unmitigated positive. There are a few places I either skip a story or provide careful commentary.

For example, Volume 3 has an installment in the St. Therese story where little Therese’s father asks her for a kiss, and she says “No!” Then her father goes inside sadly and her sisters tell her how naughty she was to say no. You see where I’m going with this. I’m sure that back in 1950, this was an entirely innocent story that was supposed to be about listening to your parents or being polite or something. However, in our modern world with our greater awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse, we definitely don’t want our kids to get the idea it’s wrong to say “No” when someone in authority asks for a kiss, or more! So this part of Volume 3 I either skip or explain carefully that her sisters meant Therese said “No” in a sassy way and she should have said “No, thank you!” And we talk about how it’s always okay to say no to someone touching you, bodily autonomy, and so on.

Another place that 1950’s norms don’t exactly match with modern sensibilities is when it come to corporal punishment. There are a few occasions over the 20 volumes of Treasure Box where someone gets a spanking or is threatened with a spanking. A lot of families nowadays are anti-corporal punishment so this is another place where a simple omission or commentary might be needed.

There’s also the rare intense story with a little violence that might disturb sensitive children. Notably in Volume 17, there’s a German folk tale about Shepherd Honest, who is coerced by a scheming courtier to kill the king’s favorite white lamb and deliver the heart to be eaten. My sensitive daughter was quite upset about the fact that the lamb was killed and it’s heart eaten. No illustration of this scene thankfully, but even hearing about this upsets some children!

All things considered

Overall, I do recommend the Treasure Box books. Their sweet vintage illustrations, virtue-building stories, and fun activities make them great for bedtime read-alouds or as a bi-weekly “magazine” to surprise your little ones with. The 2 serial stories per volume make using these as a “magazine” particularly enjoyable. It’s fun waiting to hear what happens to Therese or Wupsy next! With just the few issues I mentioned above which are sections easily omitted, these volumes are very enjoyable for little Catholic children. I think the ideal age to read these aloud is 3-6, though slightly older siblings often enjoy listening in too!

Review of “The Letzenstein Chronicles”

Cover "The Letzenstein Chronicles"

In turbulent mid-nineteenth century Europe, a young English girl is summoned to visit her dying grandfather, the Grand Duke of Letzenstein. Letzenstein is a fictional tiny European country, clearly inspired by Luxembourg. The young girl is Catherine Ayre, a lonely orphan. Her visit is to determine the future of a country on the brink of revolution. The Crystal Snowstorm is the exciting introduction in Meriol Trevor’s magnificent Letzenstein Chronicles.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

An Authentically Catholic Series

Meriol Trevor was a prolific twentieth century Catholic author. Originally from England, she helped in Italy during World War II as a relief worker. She eventually converted to Catholicism and wrote a wide variety of books for children and adults. Several of her children’s books have been republished in recent years by Bethlehem Books.

Meriol Trevor is that rare Catholic author whose books inspire virtue and love for truth and beauty so subtly you almost don’t see her trying. Like its inspiration Luxembourg, Letzenstein is a predominantly a Catholic country. Catherine Ayre gets to enter a city and country imbued with Catholic culture and art. She gets to encounter a variety of Catholics: some who strive to live their faith and some for whom faith is a facade. Tweens and young teens will appreciate the authenticity of Trevor’s depiction: there are corrupt Catholics, even corrupt clergy, in Letzenstein. But there are also Christ figures and repentant sinners who will lay down their lives to protect the innocent.

Trevor is truly a master of gently nudging her readers towards the path of virtue. The good characters in Letzenstein are compassionate and admirable, and the villains are slippery and scheming. No young reader wants to imitate devious Julius; everyone loves Rafael le Marre, the repentant sinner.

Exciting, but not just about the Action

The Letzenstein books certainly do have plenty of action. You will find daring escapes, fast-paced pursuits, clever disguises, sieges, and schemes and plots galore. Yet Trevor manages to avoid any graphic violence. Further, she manages to portray the villain’s acts of violence as truly deplorable and revolting.

Really, the Letzenstein Chronicles are about relationships: between friends, relations, rivals, families. Each character leaps from the page as if alive. Trevor is such a master storyteller she leads the reader to feel deeply invested in the fate of her characters. She tells each story from the viewpoint of a 10-12 year old child, which draws her readers into the story in a compelling way.

Any Content?

The Letzenstein Chronicles are very clean with no sexual content. There is no graphic violence or foul language. On the other hand, there is some light alcohol use. Remember this is a European book by a European author so children drinking a little wine is culturally normal. There is one episode where an adult character is given drugged alcohol by the villain in an attempt to extract information. This perfidy is portrayed as very reprehensible behavior on the villain’s part.

A Treasure Worth Finding

I highly recommend The Letzenstein Chronicles for 9-14 year olds. They also make a wonderful read-aloud for 3rd-6th graders.

The bad news is, these books can be a bit hard to find. All four Letzenstein Chronicles are available as E-Books. And you can buy the paperback of The Crystal Snowstorm from the publisher, Bethlehem Books. But to buy the paperbacks of Following the Phoenix, Angel and Dragon, or The Rose and Crown, you will have to settle for a used copy. Consider emailing publisher Bethlehem Books and asking for them to reprint this wonderful series!

For more great books for Catholic Kids, check out my book lists!

Review of “Dune”

Dune book review

Dune is often called a Science Fiction masterpiece. Now, in 2020, it’s coming out as a movie that will probably be a major hit. After the release of the movie, I’m guessing the Dune books will enjoy a new wave of popularity, so I recently read them with a view to determining their level of appropriateness for teen readers. In order to make this review a manageable length, I will concentrate on the issues I found in the first book.

Premise

Dune‘s setting is a futuristic interplanetary society where noble houses, a corrupt emperor, a power-hungry pilot’s Guild, and big-business CHOAM vie for power and wealth. There’s also the Bene Gesserit, a warrior-nun group which pursues its own agenda striving for racial purity and power. Wealth in the world of Dune is measured in terms of Melange, also called Spice, a drug which has whole universe under its thrall.

The plot centers around Paul Atreides, a teenager coming of age in one of the noble houses. Paul’s family takes charge of Arrakis, the planet which produces all the Spice. Paul is a unique combination of visionary, genius, and leader. With the aid of his Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica, he becomes the leader of the Fremen, a nomadic warrior tribe who control the Spice fields. At the head of the Fremen, Paul takes control of the Empire.

There’s no denying that the scope and richness of the Dune series is captivating. The insights about greed for power and wealth and its results are commendable. I even appreciated the first book simply as a literary work. But as a parent, I found several concerning aspects with this book on multiple levels.

Concerns

Drug Use: the entire planetary system in the world of Dune is addicted to Spice, their drug of choice. Many are well aware of this fact, but choose addiction because they want the heightened senses and visions the Spice brings. There is a heavy emphasis on the powers and enhancements the drug provides. A recipe for encouraging teens to try drugs, anyone?

Sexual content: Lady Jessica is a concubine. There is a scene where another Bene Gesserit “sister” is sent by her husband to sleep with a teenage boy whose DNA they want for their breeding program. Paul takes a concubine from among the Fremen and has a son with her. None of this is particularly graphic; it is more stated than described.

Anti-Catholic content: The Bene Gesserit are basically nuns. Well, except they’re obsessed with preserving the best genes, so frequently become concubines, commit adultery, and so on. They use terms like “Reverend Mother” for their leaders. They send “Missionaries” to other planets to sew seeds of “storylines” in case one of the sisterhood is ever in need. The concept of an “awaited Messiah” is one of these intentionally created legends.

Both the depiction of Bene Gesserit and use of Messiah motif are troublesome. In the world of Dune, the coming of a Messiah is basically a big hoax carefully planned for millennia. “Religion” is an intentional manipulative force used by the Bene Geserit to further their own secret goals of racial purity.

Conclusions

I really dislike it when authors take Catholic terms and intentionally try to pervert the mental connotations, seeding doubt and reversion in the reader’s mind when they hear terms like “Reverend Mother,” “Messiah,” or “Missionary.” In Dune, this agenda extended to the entire concept of religion. For me, that largely ruined the Dune books so I wouldn’t recommend them for teens.

But, if you have an older teen who loves science fiction and really wants to read them, I recommend encouraging an analytical approach. For example, ask your teen to intentionally try to spot all the examples of twisting Religion and Christian terms in a negative way. Or ask them to form an opinion on whether author Herbert was intentionally normalizing drug use and free love. A mature teen can gain a lot of benefit can by this kind of intentional analysis.

Looking for better books for your teens? Check out my book lists, especially my lists for high schoolers!

Review of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Novel by [Bradley, Alan]

70 year old Alan Bradley’s debut mystery novel quickly became an international bestseller- and with reason. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia de Luce brings something completely fresh and new to the mystery scene. Amateur chemist Flavia is all of 11 years old, but when a stranger gets murdered in her family’s garden, she is instantly determined to solve the murder. Precocious and cynical and lovable, Flavia is a one-of-a-kind sleuth in these charming, well-plotted mysteries.

In the Great Tradition of Golden Age Mysteries

Author Bradley seems to have intentionally created a Golden Age of Mystery atmosphere in these novels. Like most Golden Age detective fiction, these books are set in English country houses and cozy villages. Each book opens with Flavia becoming involved in a murder investigation. The clues are provided for the reader so there’s actually hope of figuring out whodunit. The theme is always about bringing justice and restoring order to the house and village.

Surprisingly Clean

With an 11 year old protagonist, this series easily avoids many of the common racy relationship scenes common in mystery novels. There are a few plot points here and there involving adultery or promiscuity, but no explicit details. Since they’re so clean, this series is actually appropriate for teens too.

A Troubled Family

The sad part of these books is Flavia’s troubled family life. Her mother was absent, then dead. Her father is depressed and disinterested. Her sisters are frequently quite cruel. Flavia’s cynical nature is better understood after she explains how her sisters play cruel pranks such as leaving her tied up and locked in a dark cellar. Paradoxically, these same sisters do show loyalty on occasion, even saving Flavia’s life in one novel. The evolving relationship between the sisters is one of the threads that connects the books together and a reason to read them in order.

Given her troubled family situation, it’s no surprise that Flavia is no angel. She frequently lies, manipulates, and prevaricates. She disobeys adults habitually, breaks rules, plays malicious pranks and generally tries to get attention. She’s somewhat disturbingly obsessed with poisons. But despite all this, it’s easy to see this brilliant, lost adolescent’s potential, and you quickly begin rooting for her- not only to solve the mystery but to grow as a person.

A Mystery Series for Teens and Adults to Enjoy

Fans of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Sherlock Holmes will really enjoy these clever mysteries which reach back to the Golden Age for inspiration. Given Flavia’s troubled, precocious personality and the violent murders, I wouldn’t recommend them for younger teens. The books are intended for adults, but I think older teens would also enjoy them. Enjoy a little escape time as you peruse The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Review of “Introverted Mom”

"Introverted Mom" book cover
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Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy by Jamie Martin is a lovely literary feast that reassures introverted moms that their quiet natures are actually a gift to their families. At the same time, Jamie does not hold back on pointing out just how devastating daily life as a mom can be for women with an introverted nature. Jamie is a deeply introverted mother who has navigated being a full time stay at home mom, homeschooler, and adoptive mom. Introverted Mom is a pleasing blend of personal stories and wisdom from beloved introverted authors such as L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Louisa May Alcott. However, as enjoyable a book as Introverted Mom is, I ponder how much better this book could be with a Catholic flavor, drawing on the wisdom of introverted Saints along with authors.

Are you an introvert?

Jamie begins with a self-assessment of your introversion level. Moms who are already familiar with personality testing can skim this part. But some moms who generally consider themselves extroverts may be surprised to learn that they actually fall on the introversion spectrum. As Jamie explains, motherhood is particularly difficult for introverts due to the sheer number of introvert stressors inherent to being a mom. So someone who may have always considered themselves an extrovert may find themselves overwhelmed by motherhood until they recognize and accept their true introversion.

Literary Introverts

The funnest parts of Introverted Mom are all the quotes and reflections on some favorite introverted authors: Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their thoughts on finding peace and happiness in daily life will resonate deeply with introverts. Jamie also draws on modern day introverted author Susan Cain and her fascinating book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Quiet happens to be one of my personal favorite books, so I loved that Jamie drew on some of Cain’s psychological insights and scientific studies.

The basic premise in Quiet and Introverted Mom is that western culture, especially in America, values extroverted strengths while ignoring or disparaging the natural strengths of introverts. (For example: ever been called too quiet?) Quiet uses reams of research, science, studies, and anthropology to challenge the notion that there is something inherently better or preferable about extroverted characters. It’s thought-provoking and evidence-based. Introverted Mom is much less scientific and more personal in its scope, drawing on anecdotes, famous quotes, and common sense to encourage introverted women to accept and appreciate their strengths- and weaknesses. Depending on your taste in literature, you may enjoy one or both books. As Jamie might point out, if you’re a Meyers-Briggs Personality Test F, you’ll enjoy her book more; if you’re a T like me you’ll probably prefer Quiet!

Protestant Influences

I think Jamie made a solid effort to give this book as broad a Christian appeal as possible. There is nothing anti-Catholic, and even a nice reflection on Mary as an introverted mother. On the other hand, her humorous reflections on being an introvert in a charismatic church are clearly aimed at evangelical Protestants. Although Jamie finds a way to laugh at how out of place introversion is in a charismatic church, she also seems to feel a certain longing for a more natural way of worship. She prefaces her chapter on religion with a popular L. M. Montgomery passage about needing silence and solitude to connect with God:

“If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the woods and I’d look up into the sky…”

Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (emphasis added)

I think Jamie, and other Protestant introverts, have a rougher time of it than Catholic introverts when it comes to prayer and worship. This is one reason I think a similar book for introverted moms written from a Catholic perspective could have so much more depth.

Catholic Offerings

For those with an introverted spirit, Catholicism has some fantastic offerings: Eucharistic Adoration, contemplative prayer such as the Rosary, an entire vocation and lifestyle in the Contemplative life, hundreds of introverted Saints with extensive writings to meditate on… The list goes on and on. To take just one example of the wisdom and practical suggestions to be found in the lives of the saints, look at Saint Teresa of Calcutta, a well-known introvert. This saint insisted on a time of quiet Eucharistic adoration and a rest time during the afternoon for her nuns. As an introvert, she knew that she herself and her fellow nuns needed to carve out quiet and solitude in order to recharge so they could serve others.

So by all means read and enjoy what Introverted Mom has to offer in terms of self-help suggestions, but remember that there are more riches of wisdom to help in the journey of motherhood than Protestantism offers!

So who wants to write a Catholic version of Introverted Mom?

Concerning Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight scene, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

One of the tags I use here on GoodBooksforCatholicKids.com is Turkish Delight. This tag, and indeed the book review portion of the blog, was inspired by a particular chapter in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe titled “Turkish Delight.” I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia at least a dozen times, and over these many re-reads I began to see an analogy between Turkish Delight and certain books.

“Turkish Delight”

In the chapter “Turkish Delight,” Edmund enters Narnia for the first time and almost immediately meets the White Witch. She offers him food and he asks for Turkish Delight, which she magically produces. Lewis describes the confection in mouth-watering fashion: “Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” But really, of course, the candy was quite dangerous, even deadly: it confused the eater’s mind and eventually leads to death.

“While he was eating the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. . . .

[T]his was enchanted Turkish Delight and anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.”

~ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

Of course, the reader can easily extrapolate the symbol of Turkish Delight to apply to many categories of temptations and vices. For me, though, Turkish Delight always symbolized a certain type of book: easily inhaled, pleasant, addictive, and with poisonous content that killed the soul.

Weakening and Addictive

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Witch offers rooms full of Turkish Delight- unlimited light, easy pleasure- in exchange for Edmund bringing her his siblings. At first, it’s hard to imagine how Edmund can be willing to trade his siblings and soul for more candy. But if you consider that Lewis is using Turkish Delight as an allegory for temptation and sin, the puzzle of Edmund’s actions becomes clearer. A temptation succumbed to is a sin, and sin weakens the soul. So Turkish Delight weakens Edmund’s ability to clearly discern the good and withstand future temptations. Lewis describes that after eating the enchanted food, Edmund starts “becoming a nastier person by the minute.”

Turkish Delight and Books

On my blog, books tagged Turkish Delight are examples of unwholesome literature that results in weakening of the soul. Good literature has great power to inspire positive changes in mindset. On the flip side, unwholesome literature results in bad attitudes and negative behavior changes. As a case in point, after my popular Review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out, I had several parents reach out and tell me how they knew their must be something wrong with the book from their children’s worsening behavior after reading it.

Ruining Appreciation of the Good

Later in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund can’t enjoy a delicious, wholesome meal when he returns to Narnia. At the Beaver’s House, he can’t appreciate the simple but delicious food he was served:

“He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight- and there’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

How many kids can’t seem to enjoy classics like Tom Sawyer, The Melendys, Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, or Little Britches anymore? In many cases, I think this is the result of exposure to Turkish Delight style literature.

How to avoid Turkish Delight books?

Inevitably, your children will eventually stumble upon books that are of the Turkish Delight category. The best way to help your children develop the ability to recognize and avoid books which are unwholesome is to help them develop an appetite for good books. How? Buy great books. Borrow them from the library or a friend if you can’t buy them. Read them aloud to your little children, and have them available for your older children. Need ideas of great books? Check out my Books Lists for thousands of ideas!

Have a child who loves Narnia? Look at this list of great fantasy series for Catholic kids and teens:

Review of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Book Poster Image

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is one of those oft-recommended young adult series. It’s promoted as a modern classic by many libraries. Even some reputable review sites like commonsensemedia.org recommends it for 12+. The series premise is that four close friends share a special pair of jeans which help them stay close even when apart. The depiction of strong, healthy female friendship is moving and imitable, but there are definitely concerning aspects of this series Catholic parents need to be tracking.

Great premise, poor writing

Bridget, Lena, Tibby, and Carmen share a robust, close friendship. Always there for each other, always ready to sacrifice for one another, the parts of this series that focus on their friendship are in fact quite inspiring. The writing style, however, is shallow. The plot is not well-planned, and the character growth is uneven or inconsistent with some of the characters. I might have forgiven some of this though if I wasn’t so concerned with the amount of sexual content in a tween/teen series.

Too much focus on sex

There are really two themes in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. One is female friendship, the other is discovering your sexuality and losing your virginity. This series is written for a secular audience, so perhaps this is the norm in public schools, but Catholic parents may be startled to learn that this series describes events such as 15 year old Bridget seducing her 19 year old soccer coach. In a later book, 18 year old Bridget begins a similar seduction of her married archaeology professor, but at least stops at passionate making out, for what that’s worth. Tibby, at 18, fornicates with her boyfriend and then has a pregnancy scare. Lena, at 18, engages in nude modeling in art school and eventually loses her virginity to a guy she admits to not really loving or seeing marrying. Throughout the series, a lot of the plot is concerning who will sleep with who and when? Interesting content for a series that is supposed to be promoting positive teen behavior.

Lessons: too vague, too incoherent

Are the consequences of all this sexual misconduct negatively portrayed? Sometimes. Bridget falls into a year long depression after seducing her soccer coach and being rejected. The message is that it was a mistake because she was “too young.” But then, two years later, when she meets the soccer coach again and they fall in love, apparently she is now “old enough” and having sexual relations is acceptable. According to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, having sex with your boyfriend is just fine as long as you’re “old enough” and “feel” right about it.

After Tibby fornicates with her boyfriend, she is terrified she’s pregnant, which causes her major anxiety and leads to breaking up with the boyfriend. But again, the message is not that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but rather that the timing was wrong. Even as Tibby regrets that she might be pregnant, the author makes sure to clarify that she didn’t actually regret having sex, because “she was ready.”

So The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants delivers a typical secular message that sex outside of marriage is okay overall, as long as you’re “ready” and not “too young.”

Great Premise, but unfit for Christian consumption

I would love to see a similar series with themes about strong female friendships, loyalty, and growing up, but done in a way that is appropriate for Catholic teens. Sadly, none of the teens in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants have any sort of moral compass regarding sexuality and relationships. Lacking guidance from wise adults or any philosophical or religious formation, they make decisions based strictly on what feels right to them. Consequently, the characters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants are poor role models. I cannot recommend this series for Catholic teens under any circumstances.

Review of “North American Martyrs”

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book by Bonnie Way and Katherine Babcock

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book is a fantastic resource for Catholic families. Written by Bonnie Way, the Koala Mom, this is a creative and well-researched activity book. It provides both biographical information on eight Catholic men who were martyred for their faith in seventeenth century North America and fun activities.

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Focus on Courage and Charity

The eight North American martyrs are inspiring men who vividly demonstrated both the great commandments in their curtailed lives. Each martyr possessed such a burning love for God that they risked their lives to spread the Gospel to the Native Americans and First Nation people of Canada and the United States. Often tortured and persecuted, they willingly returned to their mission fields and the American people they loved until their deaths. In North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book, the selfless life of each martyr is described briefly but with sufficient detail to inspire twenty first century children with a admiration for what these men endured for their faith.

A Great Unit Study Resource

In addition to the stories of these martyr’s lives, North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book contains plenty of mazes, crosswords, word finds, decoding, and writing prompts to emphasize the important information. The book is divided into each sections, each with a biography and activities, making it a perfect unit study or saint a week book for the summer months. I also think this book would be great to keep an 8-12 year old occupied on a long road trip or vacation.

A Catholic Activity Book

The neatest thing about this book is its originality: a specific Catholic martyr themed activity book? Who’d have thought! At $15.00 for a 130 page activity book, it’s even very reasonably priced! Would I change anything? I might add color photos and more images in general, but overall this is a well-done and worthwhile activity book for the 8-12 year old crowd.

I received a free copy of North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book from thekoalamom.com in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more books for middle grade kids? Check out my lists for Boys and Girls!

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book by Bonnie Way and Katherine Babcock