Review of “The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature”


What is the real magic in fairy tales? Why are they timeless and what do they teach us? Literature professor Mitchell Kalpakgian sets out to answer these questions by analyzing some of the themes repeated throughout classics children’s literature with a particular focus on fairy tales. The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature is a wonderful book for parents to read. This book clarifies so many of the enigmatic themes in children’s stories, empowering you as the parent to point out these themes to your children in stories from Cinderella to Pandora’s Box. It also helps Catholic parents understand the importance of exposing our children to these classic stories as a type of faith formation in shaping their hearts and imaginations.

What is a children’s classic?

Kalpakgian believes that a classic explicates one of the mysteries of life for children (and adults). A great story illuminates the connection between the spiritual and physical. Kalpakgian writes: “Dreams and fairy tales are as useful and necessary as windows which join the outside realm to the inside world, which bring heaven to earth and draw the human world to the divine world.”

Kalpakgian draws on a wide range of literature, poetry, fairy tales, and myths to exemplify the unfolding of each mystery for children to understand.  Examples of great stories in The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature range from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald to Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book to The Wind in the Willows. From A Child’s Garden of Verses to Little Women. And after reading The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, the parent is empowered to recognize noteworthy themes in children’s books beyond those Kalpagian cites.

The themes in children’s literature can sometimes seem mysterious and contradictory.

For example, what’s the deal with wishes in fairy tales? Why do they sometimes come true, and sometimes don’t? Why are the consequences of wishing in fairy tales sometimes positive, like Cinderella receiving fairy help and a happily ever after, and sometimes negative, like Midas’ daughter turning to metal?

Kalpakgian classifies wishes in stories in four distinct categories: whims, fantasies, temptations, and true wishes. Whims are random, thoughtless wishes. Fantasies are “excessive, uncontrollable desires for gold or power that reflect the sin of pride, the worship of money, and self-delusion.” Temptations in children’s classics are false promises of excitement which entice innocent children to disobey. But true wishes begin in the deepest longings of the heart and reflect desires associated with genuine human happiness such as true love or the blessing of children.

Children’s classics help form an appreciation and desire for the transcendentals.

Kalpagian devotes three chapters to the Mystery of the Good, the Mystery of Truth, and the Mystery of Beauty. The transcendentals- the good, the true, the beautiful, and the one- are attributes of God. Each transcendental is intimately connnected to the others and points us to the others. For example, true beauty draws are heart and mind to truth and goodness. Kalpagian writes, “The mystery of beauty in children’s literature evokes a love and desire for knowledge.” Beauty drawing the beholder to truth and goodness can be seen in many fairy taeles such as Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.

Looking at the connection between the transcendentals from another angle, inability to appreciate beauty correlates with blindness to truth and goodness, as in Anderson’s Swineherd. These chapters on each transcendental and also the inextricable bond between them were the best in the book in my opinion.

To quibble a bit, I found Kalpagian’s chapter on The Mystery of Luck slightly lacking.

Of course, I didn’t agree with every part of this book. To nitpick, I wish Kalpakgian’s treatment of “luck” had a more overtly Christian tone. He treats luck or fortune as a mysterious force that brings gifts to some and ruins others. I found this treatment not so much incorrect as incomplete; as Catholics we believe that all events are part of God’s plan. What agnostics call luck, Catholics call Divine Providence or blessings from God. In The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, Arthur Ransome uses this Christian understanding of luck: “This is a story that shows that God loves simple folk and turns things to their advantage in the end.”

Kalpakgian actually does have a wonderful chapter on Divine Providence in children’s stories. He points out the mysterious yet very real motif of Divine Providence seen in the form of fairy godmothers, guardian angels, and mysterious elves in books. His explanation of Irene’s grandmother in The Princess and the Goblin is really exceptional as an example of Divine Providence as that invisible thread also seen in Chesterton’s Father Brown. But for some reason, Kalpagian doesn’t also see Divine Providence as represented by “luck” in children’s literature.

Classic stories help children develop a strong moral compass.

By reading or listening to classic stories at a tender age, children’s imaginations and hearts are formed to accept simple truths about virtue and life. Goodness, when done out of a generous heart and without desire for reward, is exalted and repaid twofold. The simple folk with no deviousness in their hearts are blessed. True wishes for genuine human goods are granted. Beauty leads to truth, which leads to goodness. Divine providence is a mysterious, but real and powerful force.

Not only are the pure of heart rewarded, the wicked or selfish are punished. Fairy tales and fables teach that ultimately good does triumph over evil. Often good triumphs in this life, but sometimes not until the next. For example, in the original Little Mermaid tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the Little Mermaid doesn’t get to marry the prince and dies, but she is lifted up by the sky fairies at death and given the opportunity for immortality, which is the real desire in her heart.

The great writer G. K. Chesterton explains in Orthodoxy that the lesson he retained from fairy tales and stories from his childhood had a profound effect on his eventual conversion. I conclude that as Catholic parents we can not do better than to  nourish our children’s minds, hearts, and imaginations with truly worthwhile stories that impart the lessons Kalpagian writes about in The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature.

 

 

9 Reasons to Prioritize Reading even as a Busy Mom

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AT THE END OF A LONG DAY…

The kids have been up since o-dark-thirty. You’ve cooked and cleaned and worked and changed a dozen diapers and played referee to a hundred fights and gone over the silent e rule for the thousandth time and cooked again and cleaned again and read that story the kids want to hear for the zillionth time and finally, they’re asleep. You’re too tired to clean any more, and really what sounds best is dropping on the couch and binge watching a TV show until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore.

I know, I’m there too most nights. And I’ll confess there was a period where I did exactly that nearly every night: watched TV because it seemed like my brain was too foggy for anything else. But eventually, I broke the cycle and got back to my first love: reading books. Not because it’s easier, because it’s not. And not only because it’s better for me, though it is. I read because it makes me a better mom, wife, and person.

There are at least 9 great reasons to spend some time reading at the end of the day, even as a brain-fogged, busy mom.

1. Read to stimulate your mind. I know the brain fog that can descend from hour after hour of talking with little kids and doing the mundane housework and reading Goodnight Moon over and over. Reading a good book helps your focus and memory improve. Defy entropy and improve your intellect! Find a subject you are interested in and read a book on it. Does World War II fascinate you? Try reading Victor Frankl’s moving story of incarceration in a death camp in Man’s Search for Meaning. Interested in learning more about finances and psychology? Try Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

2. Read to grow spiritually. Here’s an obvious one, but spiritual reading is a easy and accessible source of spiritual growth. What better way to form a more personal relationship with Christ than by studying His life and learning from His friends? Maybe you like to sit down with your Bible and a journal. Or perhaps you prefer to read a spiritual classic like St. Francis de Sales’ An Introduction to the Devout Life or St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle.

3. Read to give a better perspective on your life. We all get mired down in the difficulties of our particular here and now. Like little kids, we feel miserable because we’ve got a cold, or our favorite mug shattered, or the air conditioning broke, in July, in Florida, at 36 weeks pregnant. Reading other people’s stories can help us both gain perspective on our minor everyday woes and learn to embrace true suffering when it comes with grace. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a major wake-up call to me recently to be grateful for how blessed my life really is. A Severe Mercy had a similar effect, but also is an inspiring account of suffering leading to growth and hope.

4. Read to set an example for your kids. We all know the old “do what I say, not what I do” advice doesn’t work with kids. Telling your kids they should be reading instead of glued to electronics doesn’t carry much weight unless you’re following your own wisdom. I intentionally read in front of my kids sometimes so they see that I enjoy it. In fact, at breakfast time in our house I encourage everyone to read at the table!


5. Read to improve your vocabulary. Of course, I don’t think we all need to speak in words with a minimum of 12 letters at all times. But since what you read impacts your writing and speech, you will find reading well-written books helps your vocabulary and diction. Our family favorite for this purpose is P. G. Wodehouse. His mastery of the English language is truly unparalleled. His books are the perfect blend of easy to read, yet studded with wonderful words like ephemeral, insoluble, dearth, peremptory, and poltroonery. Really, though, any literary classic cannot but help improve your diction. Try some Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, L. M. Montgomery, or George Orwell.

6. Read to lower stress and improve sleep quality. Did you know that less than ten minutes of reading drastically lowers your stress levels? Studies show that your stress levels drop by 68% by the time you’ve read a book for ten minutes! If you struggle with falling asleep or insomnia, try curling up with a good book for a half hour before turning off the lights.


7. Read to avoid repeating history. Remember that famous quote attributed to Santayana: “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” There’s certainly truth there, which is why I like to work a little history into my reading stack. If you are a scholarly type who likes a true history book, you may enjoy a tome like The Founding of Christendom. If, like me, you prefer to learn your history indirectly, try historical fiction, like Treason: A Catholic Novel of Elizabethan England or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

8. Read to escape to a better place. We all have difficult seasons. Maybe we struggle with depression, loss of a loved one, or financial trouble. A good book can be a refuge for a time from the stress of the moment. Our minds can be soothed and our hearts lifted for a time, at least by an engaging adventure, romance, or comedy. You can find some of my favorite “light” reads like Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy on this list.

9. Read so you can answer your kids’ questions. My kids are like sponge-shaped question marks. They ask questions like “Why can’t the devil be forgiven?” and “How do we know there isn’t life on the moon?” and “Why is that flower yellow?” Now, I know there’s no way I will ever be able to answer all their questions offhand, but I hope that if I continue to learn, I’ll be able to answer some of them anyway. Particularly that one about the devil.

Review of “No-Drama Discipline”

Recently, I felt like refreshing my parenting techniques and exploring some new ideas. Browsing through recommendations of parenting books in a gentle parenting group, the title No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind intrigued me for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a mouthful. How did a publisher let that one slip by? Second of all, I personally am passionately adverse to drama in my relationships, so removing drama from my parenting sounded like a spectacular idea. Finally, I was interested in seeing how the authors, a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist, approached the subject of discipline.

SCIENTIFIC BASIS

The ideas on discipline in No-Drama Discipline are heavily influenced by emerging research on brain development. I personally found it fascinating to learn about the order in which the different parts of the brain develop, what brain integration means, and how neural connections are forged. The authors did a great job simplifying some weighty concepts so sleep-deprived parents like me can easily grasp them, using easy terminology like upstairs brain and downstairs brain. I appreciated their balance between keeping it simple, but explaining how each discipline strategy was focused on the ultimate goal of building your child’s brain.

CONTINUITY WITH THE SOCRATIC METHOD

Fans of the Socratic method of education will love this book, which advocates liberal use of questions and discussion. A huge part of “no drama discipline” is teaching your child to think, not just feel. One of the authors’ important concepts is “mindscape,” which is the ability to be not only the feeler and doer, but also be the observer. Put another way, mindscape is the ability to see one’s actions and feelings as if from the outside and analyze them. The authors say,

“When we teach our kids mindsight tools, we give them the gift of being able to regulate their emotions, rather than being ruled by them, so they don’t have to remain victims of their environment or emotions.”

One important way mindscape is taught is through a Socratic approach of initiating dialogues with your child to encourage empathy and insight.

IN HARMONY WITH THEOLOGY OF THE BODY

I was delighted to find that No-Drama Discipline presented a surprising cohesion with Theology of the Body’s respect for the human person. One of the fundamental tenets of No-Drama Discipline is that a parent must respect their child as a person, acknowledging and validating their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. No-Drama Discipline advocates collaborating with children to brainstorm discipline solutions together as a part of this respect for a person. It also empathizes the importance of developing your child’s neural network through relationships, noting that nourishing your relationship with your child is crucial in developing his full potential as a person.

DEVELOPING THE CHILD’S CONSCIENCE

Although the authors approach discipline from a secular and scientific perspective, they amazingly conclude that it is imperative for parents to help their child build a conscience! A big principle in this book is that instead of simply lecturing and demanding blind obedience, a parent should nurture the child’s innate feelings about right and wrong. They= authors explain that guilt is actually an important emotion to teach the child to recognize and respect as a sign that an action was wrong and not to be repeated. The authors say that

“Initial awareness of having crossed a line is extremely healthy, and it’s evidence of a child’s developing upstairs brain … It means she’s beginning to acquire a conscience, or an inner voice, along with an understanding of morality and self-control.”

OVERALL, REALISTIC

One other thing I really appreciated about No-Drama Discipline is that I found it be almost entirely realistic. The authors readily admit that there is no “magic wand” that will instantly end all bad behavior forever. They teach that integral parts of no-drama discipline are response flexibility, taking your parenting philosophy off autopilot, and being creative. They don’t claim that their strategies result in perfect child. But they do claim that their strategies produce more positive interactions overall and minimize damage when those really dreadful parenting nightmares happen. I think they are right, although I would love to see them do a follow up book on applying no-drama discipline to a large family situation where a parent is constantly torn between conflicting demands from a small army of children.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A college psychology professor said that a child’s relationship with their parents forms their view of, and relationship with, God. If a parent is authoritarian and dictatorial, that is how the child will view God. But if a parent is a loving and gentle, yet also consistent and challenging, teacher figure like Jesus in the New Testament, then this is the image of God they will see. I think this book helps teach parents to present that latter example to their child, so I highly recommend it to any Catholic parent.

 

Good Books for Catholic Husbands and Fathers

In our house, I am undeniably the bibliophile.  My very busy, military officer husband used to claim he didn’t like reading, but over time has altered his position to: “I only like (and have time for) reading practical, inspiring books.”  Once he actually finds a book he likes though, he thinks everyone should read it!  This list includes some of his favorites, which you will probably hear recommended over dinner if you ever come to our house.

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Peter Kreeft’s clear, logical style resonates with men, so it’s no surprise my husband’s first book recommendation is usually Making Choices: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Moral Decisions. Actually, both of us loved this book, because it offers exactly what the title states: practical wisdom about everyday moral decisions. Kreeft provides a general framework and then addresses some specific common moral conundrums.

Kreeft has written a plethora of excellent books such as , but another title of particular interest for Catholic fathers is Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. In this book, Kreeft shares his astute thoughts on what is most important to discuss and pass on to our children.

 

 

Another favorite author of both my husband and father is Matthew Kelly, a devout Catholic and also fantastic self-help type motivational speaker. His Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction was extremely helpful for my husband in mapping out his path forward for his career and our family.

Another Matthew Kelly book which is perfect for a couple to read together is The Seven Levels of Intimacy. This book is sure to help you improve communication with your spouse and build a more meaningful relationship. Matthew Kelly’s simple, direct style makes this a quick and easy read.

Randy Hain’s Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life is similar to Matthew Kelly’s Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction. It’s another excellent book about trying to create harmony in all areas of your life.

Another great book by Hain is Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men. In this book, Hain undertakes to synthesize a lifestyle that combines authentic masculinity with a deep spirituality.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Uniformity with God’s Will is a very short but highly practical little book which lays out a path to holiness based on submitting our will to God’s throughout the events of every day life.

Dr. Gregory Popcak’s Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving is a favorite wedding gift for my husband’s friends. This isn’t simply a book about sex. Rather, it’s about how every moment of our day to day married lives needs to be about loving and serving one another, because that is the path to a happy marriage.

We are admittedly fond of Popcak’s books, so Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids has been our general road map for parenting style.

My husband really enjoyed reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know recently, and has already loaned it out to a friend! He was really impressed with how important the father is for girls’ success in life on every level from emotional stability to academic success to being able to pick a good husband.

Since we were blessed to attend classes by Dr. John Cuddeback during college, we have a particular fondness for True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. Cuddeback draws on Aristotelian philosophy to explain what true friendship looks like and what its purpose is.

My husband has a fondness for Venerable Fulton Sheen’s work, whether in audio or book form. We own Life is Worth Living, which is a collection of scripts from Sheen’s extremely popular television show of the same title. Each chapter is short, but thought-provoking.

Dale Ahlquist takes G. K. Chesterton’s prodigious genius and simplifies it to a level that mere mortals can understand at the end of a fourteen hour work day. All Roads: Roamin’ Catholic Apologetics is a series of very short (three page usually) chapters which clarify Chesterton’s unique wisdom and insight on a wide variety of topics.

The Way, Furrow, The Forge are three spiritual classics by Josemaria Escriva which my husband enjoys for its concise yet compelling one liners about following Jesus.

Because of Our Fathers

Because of Our Fathers is a wonderful new collection of inspirational stories from Ignatius Press. Tyler Rowley edits these moving accounts from 23 famous modern Catholic figures about the impact of their fathers on their lives. A great Father’s Day present!

Good Books on Spirituality, Womanhood, and Motherhood for Catholic Moms

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All of us moms need some fresh inspiration occasionally, and what better place to find it than in good books? I am passionate about making time to fill my own mind with nourishing food for thought. Here are some of my favorite books on Catholic motherhood, parenting, spirituality, and family life.

The Foundation

I believe that the key to a happy family is a serene mother. The foundation for this peaceful spirit can be found in a deep trust in God’s will, as St. Alphonsus de Liguori explains in his classic work Uniformity with God’s Will. This little gem is only $5, and can be read in less than an hour. St. Alphonsus explains the key to happiness and serenity is resignation to God’s will as seen in your lot in life.

Father Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart outlines a similar vision to St. Alphonsus: that finding peace is tied to confidence in and surrender to God. I love how Father Philippe not only explains the path to interior peace in theory, but then spends the majority of the book explaining how to maintain that peace in real-life circumstances.

Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere is a third spiritual classic explaining that peace lies in surrender to God’s will. Written over 300 years ago, this is a denser read than the two previous titles.

Retreats and Reflections
Daily Bible reading has been recommended by several popes and countless saints as a fast track to deepening your spirituality, and Take Up and Read is doing amazing work in creating daily Bible Study guides by Catholic women, for Catholic women. I loved Consider the Lilies, and Rooted in Hope is on my wish list!

St. Therese of Lisieux’s little way is infinitely practical for and applicable to motherhood, so I highly recommend I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

For the overwhelmed mom, Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss have created the perfect daily verse, reflection, and action prompt all on one page: Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Your Daily Call to Think, Pray, and Act

Catholic Womanhood


Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women is a wonderful introduction to seeing your very womanhood as a vocation to embrace. Donna Cooper O’Boyle quotes extensively from encyclicals, John Paul II, and a plethora of saints in this extremely readable exploration of our calling as Catholic women.

Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman’s Guide to Catholic Motherhood is a funny, affirming, inspiring book that will leave you empowered to dive back into the beautiful mess that is raising a Catholic family. A quick read with thought-provoking questions in each chapter.

The Reed of God is a spiritual classic which explores Mary and her relationship with God. Carryl Houselander makes Mary seem human and accessible, and thus teaches the reader to imitate Mary’s example of womanhood.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s books on womanhood are insightful and inspiring. I enjoyed The Privilege of Being a Woman, which is a response to feminist ideology about man and woman’s equality. Man & Woman: A Divine Invention is an even more fascinating sequel in which von Hildebrand reflects on how man and woman are each part of God’s infinitely wise plan.

Catholic Motherhood and Parenting

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising almost Perfect Kids is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect blueprint for what Catholic parenting should look like. Catholic psychologist and father Dr. Greg Popcak joins with his wife Lisa in writing this awesome guide to raising Catholic children. Dr. Popcak takes John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and applies it to raising children in a unique and perspective-changing way, that is backed up by extensive scientific research.

I also love Dr. Popcak’s Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids as a practical, how-to guide for teaching kids about sexuality from a Theology of the Body perspective.

Matthew Kelly’s The Seven Levels of Intimacy is a wonderful resource about building healthy relationship- whether with your spouse, your children, extended family, or friends. Kelly’s books are deceptively simple reads, but the concepts he shares are of immeasurable importance.

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children by Art and Laraine Bennett brings the classical concept of four temperaments into the modern day and age. Complete with quizzes and plenty of examples of each temperament, this book will help you understand how best to parent your children’s different personality types. I also highly recommend the Bennett’s book on temperaments for adults: The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord.

The 5 Love Languages books have gotten a lot of publicity in recent years, and I did find some good ideas for helping my children feel loved inThe 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively. Personally, I consider this less helpful than the temperament books.

The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy With Young Children by Sofia Cavaletti is the landmark work that established Catechesis of the Good Shepherd principals. This program is a way of teaching children to approach their relationship with God in a natural, free, joyful manner. Although the book is aimed at an Atrium experience, many of these ideas can and should be implemented in the home with young children.

A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul is an interesting work that applies classical monastic wisdom to the home. If you are seeking a way to better order your life, this would be a good book for you.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace is the sort of book you read and immediately pass on to a friend because it’s so good you can’t wait to share it! Sarah Mackenzie has broken down homeschooling into manageable steps and strategies, all based on the foundation of trusting God and aiming to create a well-rounded child who loves God. If you are a homeschooler, or considering being one, or know one, read this book!

Good Book Series to read aloud to a Catholic Family

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If you have a range of ages in your children and still want to attempt a family read-aloud time, then it is best to select a book which is interesting enough for your older children, but not too intense for the younger ones. You can expect that under fives will need a quiet toy to play with while listening since the lack of illustrations in moat chapter books will leave them searching for visual stimulation. A series can be a fun choice to read as a family since it gives your children more investment in the characters.

The number one series I recommend for a family read aloud is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Both you and your child will enjoy the adventures and misadventures of the four Walker children, responsible John, motherly Susan, dreamy Titty, and active Roger, and their friends wild Nancy, timid Peggy, bookish Dick, and his twin cheerful Dot. The Swallows and Amazons’ adventures take them all over England, out on the ocean, and even to China. Arthur Ransome’s fine writing and skill as a storyteller make the books in this series true classics. There are 12 books in the series, all wonderful, so plenty of hours of reading! Our favorites are Winter Holiday (Swallows & Amazons) and The Picts & the Martyrs (Swallows & Amazons) but really all the books are worth reading.

Another favorite series of mine is Catholic author Hilda Van Stockum’s wonderful Mitchell’s series, consisting of three books: The Mitchells: Five for Victory , Canadian Summer , and Friendly Gables . These books are about the five children of the Mitchell family growing up in World War II era America. Later, the family moves to Canada, which provides some nice exposure to Canadian culture. These books are memorable because the children are so very realistic. Your children will immediately connect to the Mitchells, with their dreams and disasters, as they grow both individually and as a family.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are amazing books about a Hungarian family in the 1930’s. The first book describes how Jansci’s patient family gentles his wild young cousin Kate and also offers a lovely portrait of life, tradition, and cultures in Catholic Hungary. The second book is a bit more intense, describing the dark War years’ impact on the family farm and the children.

What better choice to read to a Catholic family then a book about saints? Mary Fabyan Windeatt‘s books are my favorite for this purpose. The language is simple enough for younger listeners, but the books also have solid content and details to engage older listeners. She wrote about a wide variety of saints so there are many choices!

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House series is an American family classic. Not only do these books provide a realistic historical portrait of pioneer life, they also offer many life lessons about hard work, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and perseverance. And of course they also provide an enjoyable story line. Girls will identify with these more than boys since all the books except Farmer Boy are about the Wilder girls, but boys can still enjoy these classic all-American stories.

Reminiscent of the Little House books, the Happy Little Family series chronicles episodes in the lives of an early American family, the Fairchilds. Beautifully written, with characters that jump off the page, these four books are very enjoyable read alouds with great lessons and vivid descriptions of nineteenth century life. For example, in a chapter of the first book, Happy Little Family , the father offers a special arrowhead for whichever of his children first shows true bravery. Stories like these provide great discussion themes: what is bravery or courage, are there different types of courage, how would your child act in the story, how could your child show courage in daily life?

All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels More All-Of-A-Kind Family and All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown are charming stories about a Jewish family living in New York City about 100 years ago. These stories about a family with 5 active, engaging young girls are sure to be favorites. They also provide good information about the different holidays and culture within a Jewish family.

Depending on your children’s ages and sensitivity limits, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia may be a good choice. These books are certainly more intense than the others on this list, so be advised that they may not be a good choice for younger, sensitive children, but slightly older children love these magical tales by a master story teller. The plethora of Christian symbolism and allegory makes these books a rich, thought-provoking read. If your family spends a lot of time driving, here is a wonderful audio version read by a full cast of actors: The Chronicles of Narnia Collector’s Edition (Radio Theatre).

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. These are not great classics of literature, but wholesome, simple, enjoyable books for if you are looking for a light read aloud. Check out my review here!

If your children are a bit earlier, say eight and older, they will love the Letzenstein Chronicles, which begin with The Crystal Snowstorm. Catholic author Meriol Trevor sets these adventurous stories about orphaned children in the fictional Catholic country of Letzenstein, a tiny European kingdom. These books have heroes and villains to please the adventurous souls. I find their portrayal of the lowly and childlike characters as integral and important both noteworthy and admirable.

E. Nesbit’s books are great read-alouds for children who love a touch of fantasy in their literature. Her stories are not exactly a series, but some are loosely connected like Five Children and It and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

For animal lovers, I can’t recommend Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series highly enough! Based on true events, these stories about two children’s hard work and love for horses is really inspiring. Don’t stop at the first book! Read more about Misty, Stormy, and other great horses in Marguerite Henry Stable of Classics.