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Review of “The Plans God Has for You”

The Plans God Has for You

The Plans God Has for You: Hopeful Lessons for Young Women is a fantastic new book from Amy Smith and Emmaeus Road Publishing. Our modern world is fast-paced, stress inducing, and confusing for teens. Teenage girls desperately need to hear Amy’s message about hope, trust, and being a Christian in a fallen world.

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Jeremiah 29:11

The heart of Amy’s message is found in Jeremiah 29:11, a perfect verse for teenage girls to memorize.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

The Plans God Has for You dives deep into this verse, applying it to friendship, the sacraments, family, dating, and more. Amy urges girls to internalize this message of hope and love from God to us. She explains how this verse can carry girls through suffering, how it helps us approach our friendships and relationships, and how it calls us to shine Christ’s light in the world.

What Makes This Book Special

Amy speaks directly to teen girls with a voice they will easily connect with. She keeps her points short, sweet, and poignant. In The Plans God Has for You, teens will find references and quotes from their favorite Christian bands, classic movies, and popular modern saints. Of course, my favorite part was Amy’s generous quoting of classic books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, and Jane Austen. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where Amy delves into Austen’s themes about happiness, marriage, and true love. There’s deep wisdom in these classic novels that can teach modern day teens that true love waits, is patient, is hopeful.

Perfect for Teen Girls

I would happily gift this book to teenage girls I know. It’s inspiring, it’s easy to read, and it’s clean! The only mention of sex is a paragraph that affirms the value of chastity and the goodness of sex, when used as God intended between husband and wife. Parents will appreciate Amy’s effort to focus teens on enjoying friendships, family, personal growth, and their relationship with God. Although I think the target audience is teens, there is a lot of wisdom for college aged women too. And I enjoyed it as a mom! The Plans God Has for You is a breath of fresh air!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Plans God Has For You” from Emmaeus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

The Plans God Has for You

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

Review of “God the Father and the Best Day Ever”

God the Father and the Best Day Ever is a brand-new approach to introducing little ones to salvation and God the Father. Gracie Jagla offers a fresh perspective about Salvation to little ones with this book that focuses especially on God the Father’s love for us, his children.

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Most salvation books for younger children focus on the second person in the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ, and the details of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. God the Father and the Best Day Ever looks at salvation from God the Father’s perspective. This book draws children to reflect on the Father’s love for his children, his sorrow at their exile from heaven, and his joy when the gates of heaven opened.

The simple, rhythmic text tells the salvation story in a way that young children will understand and enjoy:

You’ve heard Easter’s story,
You know how it goes:
Christ died for our sins
And on Easter, he rose.

But there’s more to the story
That you might not know.
What happened above when God
Triumphed below?

As far as the illustrations, I’ll admit I’ve more of a preference for classical and realistic art, so the more contemporary style pictures in this book aren’t my favorite. But kids who like cartoons will probably be engaged by these lively and engaging modern pictures.

Overall, I appreciated this picture book’s unique focus on God the Father. It’s worth checking out and considering if you have 3-7 year old children!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “God the Father and the Best Day Ever” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Check out my favorite Catholic books for preschoolers and kindergartners here!

Review of “Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary”

Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary book cover

St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus through Mary is often considered the gold standard of Marian devotion. Sophia Institute Press recently published Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s creative variation on the traditional consecration. In Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, O’Boyle provides a valuable resource to help families consecrate their hearts to Jesus and Mary following the outline set out by St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

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Kid-Friendly, Parent-friendly

Parents will appreciate how easy this book makes completing a family consecration! O’Boyle lays out in detail a mini-retreat for each of the 33 days based on the traditional themes in a Montfort preparation. What does a day of mini-retreat look like? There’s a short morning and evening prayer, a page of teaching for parents, another page of teaching and discussion with your children, an action to carry out, and a brief family prayer. The teachings and actions are intended for children 7 and older, so this preparation is perfect for a family with elementary to high school age children. I love how easy this book is for the parent: there is no advance preparation required at all, just open and go!

Useful Extras

In addition to the 33 days of preparation, Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary includes other handy additions. There’s a list of 17 Marian Feast Days with the accompanying days to start a preparation. That’s at least a feast day a month, so plenty of opportunities to start preparing for a consecration sooner rather than later! One of my other favorite extras was O’Boyle’s adaptation of de Montfort’s consecration prayer to make it more child-accessible. Of course, the original prayer is included too for adults and older teens.

A Worthwhile Endeavor

With families home and spending more time together than usual these days, this is the perfect time to to embark on a family consecration. I’m excited to use Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary with my own children this fall. As we begin our school year, we’ll be doing the family consecration as part of our afternoon basket in August and September. It would be easy to do the preparation at the dinner table also. The True Devotion to Mary is a powerful devotion, and Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary is a marvelous way to bring that devotion to life in your own family.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Family Consecration to Jesus Through Mary” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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 First Christmas”

Advent is almost here, and I’m preparing by getting our 2019 Christmas books wrapped and organized for our book-a-day Christmas countdown! This year, one of the new books we’ll be unwrapping is Thomas William’s recently published book The First Christmas. Williams’ charming poem is accompanied by vibrant, unique illustrations by Frank Fraser. Together, poem and illustrations make this a perfect addition to any Catholic family’s Christmas collection!

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Illustrations that tell a story

My children were captivated by the illustrator’s fascinating juxtaposition of different styles to emphasize the story. On the one hand, there are the exaggerated, almost cartoonlike, depictions of the bored townsfolk and wealthy men who don’t notice, or don’t care, that the Messiah is born. On the other, there are the serenely beautiful and luminous pictures of the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, kings, and little children who recognize their Savior. This contrast in artistic style really forces the reader to reflect on Jesus being born into a world which largely didn’t recognize Him.

Biblical References

The Theology major in me loved the Biblical references interwoven into the poem. Williams explains how the coming of the Messiah is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah and Hosea. There are also New Testament quotes and paraphrasing from Luke.

Little Children Leading the Way

Throughout the book, if you look closely you’ll notice that it is the children who recognize and welcome Jesus most readily. Young readers will love imagining themselves as the girl who cheerfully waved to Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem, or the shepherd boy who smiles at the angel as the older shepherds stare in fear and awe. The First Christmas really does a stellar job trying to draw young readers into the story of Jesus’ coming.

A Wonderful Explanation of the True Meaning of Christmas

Overall, this is a beautiful book that does a noteworthy job of explaining the true meaning of Christmas. With its lyrical verses, this poem is a great alternative Christmas poem to replace or complement the secular poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. With its focus on the true Christmas story, this picture book is really a great gift or addition to any Christmas collection.

Want to get a glimpse inside the book? Check out this great preview of The First Christmas from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press!

Looking for more picture books about Advent and Christmas? Check out my Christmas book list!

I received a copy of “The First Christmas” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

A Guide to Trustworthy Catholic Publishers

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Where do I like to shop for books? Amazon, library book sales, and used book stores are all places I like to watch for deals on fiction, especially out of print classics. When it comes to Catholic books though, I like to browse catalogs from these trusted Catholic publishers.

Ignatius Press is one of the largest and most trusted American Catholic publishing houses. They are Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s publisher, and also publish works by other recent popes. They have a huge selection: lots of books on apologetics, commentaries on modern culture and topics, some new Catholic novels, and old classics like Lewis and Chesterton. I’m very happy that they are actively publishing new Catholic children’s books such as Maite Roche’s beautiful children’s Bibles. They also offer Bibles, missals, DVDs, music, and much more.

Sophia Institute Press has less selection, but still offers a good range of non-fiction and fiction choices. They have a clearance section of $5 and $10 books which is a great place to look for Christmas gifts! Sophia is a great place to look for books on marriage, the sacraments, apologetics, and heaven. They also reprint titles, such as this gem from the real Maria Von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame.

TAN Books markets itself as a classic Catholic book publisher. TAN offers Bibles, devotionals, and books on a variety of Catholic subjects, primarily non-fiction. I especially appreciate the books they print as Neumann Press with the goal of reviving beautiful,out-of-print Catholic classics. We love our copy of Saints for Girls: A First Book for Little Catholic Girls.

Bethlehem Books, one of my favorite publishers, is focused on publishing both new and old wholesome fiction that builds character. Most of my favorite books growing up were printed by Bethlehem, and I love sharing their timeless classics with my children. Favorites include Happy Little Family, The Crystal Snowstorm, and The Drovers Road Collection.

The Word Among Us Press has a small selection of new books, and a lot of Bible studies, missiles, and prayer resources. I was excited to see thaty they recently published a new women’s personal Bible study and prayer journal from Elizabeth Foss focused on inspiring women in the Bible.

Dynamic Catholic is aptly named. It is, indeed, a dynamic company on fire to re-energize American Catholics. One aspect of its mission is making inspiring Catholic books accessible and affordable to everyone, so you can actually order free books on their website. I recently read Moving in the Spirit from Dynamic Catholic and it really helped me understand and begin to implement Ignatian spirituality.

Magnificat Bookstore publishes a wonderful line of Catholic children’s books through Ignatius. Magnificat is best known for its subscriptions of easily-formatted daily meditations and readings. They also publish a kids’ subscription, Magnifikid, which helps children follow and comprehend Sunday Mass.

Catholic Answers publishes a wide range of wonderful Catholic books ranging from spirituality to saints to current issues to apologetics. Their books are very readable and applicable to modern topics.

Pauline Books and Media is a major Catholic publishing house run by the Daughters of Saint Paul. They support the new evangelization and offer a wide selection of titles on Catholic topics for adults, teens, and children. They offer a particularly good assortment of books on Theology of the Body, including the original book by John Paul II: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.

Lepanto Press, affiliated with Our Lady of Victory School, specializes in republishing old and rare Catholic books. I particularly appreciate their historical fiction offerings, such as The Blood Red Crescent and The Battle of Lepanto.

Scepter is a Catholic publisher dedicated to providing Catholics books on spiritual growth. They print one of my favorite books of all time: Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.

Ave Maria Press offers primarily non-fiction titles on spirituality, Catholic culture, and ministry to both youth and adults. They also print some old classics like Robert Hugh Benson’s apocalyptic novel Lord of the World: A Novel.

Emmaus Road Publishing publishes a number of non-fiction titles on catechetics, apologetics, scripture, and more. They publish several famous converts such as Scott Hahn.

Ascension Press specializes more in other media areas, but it does publish a small but good list of books, mostly on Theology of the Body and other topics highly applicable to modern life.

Augustine Academy Press is reprinting quality versions of beloved Catholic classics such as The King of the Golden City.

Loyola Press usually has a few good offerings, though I don’t love everything they publish. The have some good character-forming collections featuring saints and heroes such as Loyola Kids Book of Heroes: Stories of Catholic Heroes and Saints throughout History.