The Restless Caterpillar is a cute picture book in the allegorical style. In this thought-provoking little story, a caterpillar notices other animals flying by and wishes that he too could soar through the sky. At first, children wonder if the caterpillar is ungrateful or envious, but as the story unfolds they realize that his desire to soar points to his true end as a butterfly.
This sweet little allegory will resonate particularly with small children who possess a melancholic temperament. One of my children, like many melancholics, already talks about how sad he feels in this world and how much he wants the eternal happiness of heaven. This story helped him understand his restless heart is really a God-given desire for the reality of heaven.
This is a very short, simple story perfect for 2-4 year olds. I appreciated the gentle rhyming text and simple pictures. I also loved the prefacing St. Augstine quote and concluding Bible verse which illustrate the themes of the story. Personally, computer graphic pictures aren’t my favorite. My only critique is that I would prefer more classical artwork. Otherwise, this is a wonderful little parable for the littlest Catholic children!
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The Restless Caterpillar was created by husband and wife team Kristina and Christopher Schoettle. You can support the Schoettles in their mission to provide parables for little Catholic children by purchasing The Restless Caterpillar on Amazon.
I received a copy of “The Restless Caterpillar” from Kristina Schoettle in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
St. Conrad and the Wildfire is a brand-new children’s book by Maura McKeegan. Our family had never heard of St. Conrad of Piacenza before, but after reading this book he is one of our new favorite saints. Both adults and children can appreciate this inspiring true story about the importance of telling the truth and owning up to one’s mistakes.
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Who was St. Conrad?
St. Conrad of Piacenza was an Italian nobleman in the fourteenth century. He ordered his servants to set a fire to smoke out a stag while hunting, but the fire grew out of control and razed nearby villages and fields. At first, Conrad is ashamed to admit he caused the fire. But after an innocent man is arrested and charged with his crime, Conrad chooses to step forward and take responsibility for the fire. The process of making restitution to his victims costs Conrad nearly all his wealth. But to his surprise, Conrad feels happier as a poor but honest man than ever before in his life.
Already, you can see the beauty and power of this story. Without being at all didactic, the facts of this story illustrate so clearly the importance of telling the truth, owning up to one’s mistakes, having contrition, and making restitution. My 5 year old immediately compared this story to going to Confession.
Another part of this story we loved was Conrad’s sweet, loyal wife Euphrosyne. Euphrosyne stands by Conrad at his worst moment when he admits he has destroyed the village, saying, “I will stand by my husband, and we will make amends together, even if it means relinquishing all that we own.” What an awesome example of an inspiring married couple, moving towards sainthood hand in hand!
One of the Best Picture Books I’ve Read This Year
On top of being a simply fantastic story, this picture book is graced with beautiful, peaceful illustrations. I enjoyed the subtle medieval notes such as the illuminated first letter on some pages, which fit with St. Conrad’s fourteenth century life. St. Conrad and the Wildfire is one of my new favorites. It certainly deserved a place on any Catholic family’s bookshelf.
For more of my favorite Catholic picture books for Catholic children, check out this list!
Looking for a book for the Easter Basket? Anthony DeStefano’s newest book has just released from Sophia Institute Press and it’s simply gorgeous! This beautiful book provides a simple introduction to a variety of Marian apparitions in a novel way. Our Lady’s Wardrobe familiarizes young children with Marian apparitions by focusing on the many beautiful costumes Mary has worn when she appeared on earth.
Can I say again the illustrations in this book are wonderful? Juliana Kolesova’s light-filled style perfectly suits this book about the Queen of Heaven. Each page glows with an other-worldly luminescence that draws the reader upwards, like a Gothic church. My little girls can’t decide on which costume they like best: Fatima, Lourdes, Knock, or Guadalupe. Check out a full preview of Our Lady’s Wardrobe on Sophia Institute Press to see these beautiful images in full.
Simple Poetry for Retention
DeStefano uses rhyming verse to tell this story. The simple verse style reflects the atmosphere of simplicity and comfort in this story about how Mary loves and visits her children on earth. The rhyming verses also help children remember the various apparitions: Carmel, Knock, Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and more.
Mary Leads us to Jesus
DeStefano takes a thoughtful approach in this children’s introduction to Mary, being careful to begin with stating the Catholic position on Mary. He begins the book with explaining Mary’s importance in the context of God’s plan and role in leading us to Jesus.
DeStefano also wisely focuses on the Marian apparitions which have been judged “worthy of belief and public veneration” by the Holy See, the highest approval a Marian apparition can receive.
Contrasting Heaven and Earth
DeStefano usually weaves some intricate themes into his children’s books, and Our Lady’s Wardrobe is no exception. I loved the subtle contrasting he uses between heaven and earth. On earth, Mary had simple clothes and was poor. In heaven, she is queen with a gorgeous wardrobe. This contrast is a great reflection of Jesus’s teachings in the Beatitudes. Mary’s life on earth surely exemplifies the Beatitudes, and in heaven she receives the rewards promised.
A Great Marian Book for the Family Library
Catholic parents can feel confident that this lovely picture book provides an orthodox, yet uniquely memorable, introduction to Mary. It’s a perfect way to help little children build a personal connection and familiarity with our Mother in Heaven. I think two to seven year olds will most enjoy Our Lady’s Wardrobe. This book is so beautiful it also makes a great gift for a sacrament or birthday!
Looking for a daily Lenten Meditation? A way to grow closer to Mary and Jesus this Lent? Check out Lenten Journey with Mother Mary by Fr. Edward Looney, a brand new book from Sophia Institute Press. Whether you’re new to Marian devotion or already pray the rosary every day, this book will help enrich your relationship with Mary and Jesus.
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A Meditation a Day
Lenten Journey with Mother Mary has a meditation for every single day of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday! As an additional bonus, Fr. Looney continues the devotions through the Easter Octave to Divine Mercy Sunday! Each day’s devotion begins on a very personal note with a direct quote from Our Lady, such as: “Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” These quotes are drawn from a variety of approved Marian apparitions and set the theme for the day. The devotion then continues with a 2-3 page meditation, a sentence-long prayer, and a suggestion for a Lenten action.
Theme of the Week
Each week has a broad theme under which the individual days fall. Themes include intentional prayer, praying for others, healing, and examination of conscience. I particularly enjoyed the meditations during the Easter Octave, which focus on faith and trust in Divine Providence.
A Lenten Journey
The title about journeying is very appropriate for this book, which certainly leads you on a journey to deepen your relationship with Mary. By increasing your Marian knowledge and deepening your prayer life, this book leads you closer to Jesus through Mary. The heart-warming takeaway message in this Lenten devotional is: Mary prays for you. Mary loves you.
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.
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!
Catholic Apologetics in graphic novel form: what could be better? In this latest volume of the Brendan and Eric in Exile series, everyone’s favorite space pilots are reassigned to fly the space taxi in recently settled Mars. There, they find a society where religion has been outlawed and Christians face real persecution and death. Brendan and Eric find themselves defending the sacraments and Catholicism like never before in Weapons of War!
The mysterious author of the Brendan and Eric books is actually a contemplative monk and priest, so it comes as no surprise that these books are steeped in solid theology. Readers will find handy notations in the bottom margins of the story noting key passages in the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church which back up Brendan’s reasoning. In this latest volume, Eric and Brendan debate on a wide range of apologetical issues: with Protestants who challenge them about the priesthood, confession, and Baptism, with atheists on marriage and the Eucharist, and even with a lady who believes in universal salvation. The Bible verses fly as fast as the drones in this novel!
In this latest book, Brendan and Eric spend a good deal of time debating Biblical interpretation with the Protestant pastor. But when faced with a anti-Christian society, the Protestants and Catholics on Mars work together to get the message of Jesus’ love and promise of salvation broadcast to the uncatechized inhabitants of the planet. Risking all their lives, they broadcast a message about Jesus’ love and mercy. Later, the Protestant pastor and his assistant again help the Catholic characters to rescue their priest, who has been imprisoned. There’s a great message in this novel about working together with our separated Protestant brethren, who are Christians too.
Great For Teens
The graphic novel style of this book will speak to tweens and teens. This book would make a great gift for First Holy Communion or Confirmation, or even for someone completing RCIA. Even adults will enjoy brushing up their Sacrament Apologetics with this easy to read format! The other two books in the series are also excellent. In the first volume, The Truth Is Out There, Brendan and Eric learn about God, and how faith and reason are not contradictory. Then in The Big Picture they combat a maniac who wants to change God’s plan for salvation. This series is a wonderful way for Catholic kids to learn about the Catholic faith and apologetics in a fun, engaging format.
For my great graphic novels for Catholic kids, check out this list!
By request of a couple different blog followers, I recently read The Wind, the Road, and the Way, one of Jenny L. Cote’s popular Epic Order of Seven series. This Biblical fiction series follows the adventures of seven special talking animals who, in this fantasized version of the Bible, play a key role in helping Jesus and His apostles. Sound a bit bizarre? Well, it is definitely a creative interpretation. In this part of the series, Max, Liz, and the other animals race around freeing Peter and Paul from jail and conversing with Mary and Jesus. The question is: are these books misleading for Catholic kids?
To Give Due Credit
The commendable part of this series is that Cote really does do a tremendous job weaving in some serious Biblical exegesis. In this book which focuses on the end of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, she includes explanations of Jewish feasts and how Jesus fulfills them. She explains how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies. She includes interesting tidbits about what the number of fish the disciples catch represents, and what a net breaking or not breaking might symbolize. There’s a lot of fascinating information that I would love my kids to encounter. But, big caveat here, not all the exegesis is is line with Catholic teaching.
Out of Line with Catholic Teaching
For all the solid exegetical details Cote includes, whenever she retells a part of the Bible that supports Catholic teaching, she ignores the implications, or even changes details to suit her story line. For example, in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaeus in Luke 24:13-35, Catholic scholars typically interpret the disciples recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread as a Eucharistic reference. Cote instead adds in her own details about the disciples noticing Jesus’ pierced hands during the meal and thus recognizing Him.
Another convenient example of skirting tricky verses comes with anything to do with Peter and Petrine privelege. In fact, I laughed about the explanation of Matthew 16 which somehow completely ignored that the verse is about Peter at all.
But the big deal breaker for me was that Cote takes the common Protestant position that Mary had other children. In parts of The Wind, the Road, the Way, Mary is described as interacting with her four “other sons,” Jude, James, Simon, and Joses. Denying Mary’s perpetual virginity is a very common Protestant stance, and another example of why the theology and exegesis in these books cannot be trusted.
Although I appreciate Cote’s attempt to bring Biblical exegesis to tweens and teens in an accessible package, I cannot recommend her books for Catholic readers. Unless a parent is willing to put considerable effort into dissecting these books sentence by sentence with their child and verifying or disproving the exegetical claims, there is a serious danger that young Catholic readers will become confused or shaken in their faith. I’d rather have my kids reading great Catholic Biblical exegetical works like Scott Hahn’s Understanding The Scriptures, Life of Jesus, or, for younger readers, Cavin’s Great Adventure Storybook.
As Catholic parents, we make sure our children are well-prepared for their First Holy Communion, Penance, and Confirmation. We discuss vocations and catechize about Holy Orders and Matrimony. But since Baptism is usually received at such a young age, it can be easy to overlook explaining the its importance to young children. If you’re looking for a beautiful, informative picture book to help your young children understand more about the symbolism, character, and rite of Baptism, check out When You Were Baptized, a new book from Liturgy Training Publications.
Written directly to Catholic Children
My little children were immediately captivated by this beautifully illustrated picture book which speaks directly to the child. Written in the second person, When You Were Baptized methodically moves through the rite of Baptism, highlighting each symbol and action. Children learn what each oil symbolizes, why the priest blesses the holy water, what the white garment signifies, and more.
Simple Explanations for the Littlest Listeners
Note that this picture book does not event attempt to touch on the depths of symbolism behind each part of a Baptism. In a message for parents at the conclusion of the book, the author explains that very young children (under age 6) are not yet old enough for moral considerations. Therefore, this book is focused on the more natural symbolism involved in Baptism versus the moral and Biblical implications.
It’s apparent that the author’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd background influenced the scope of this book. In the Catechesis, the first years are focused on cultivating wonder and love for God. This book with its simple explanations and overarching tone of welcoming the child into God’s family is true to the Catechesis vision.
A Great Baptismal Gift
This lovely picture book would be a wonderful gift for a godparent to give at a Baptism, or even to commemorate the Baptismal day of an older child. It also makes a wonderful addition to any Catholic family’s picture book library. See further information here on the Publisher’s website.
For more great books about Catholicism, the saints, sacraments, and more, check out this book list!
In The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, fairy tales meet science fiction. In this exciting series, a deadly disease is ravaging earth, a totalitarian moon queen is threatening war, and true love wins as some creatively portrayed princesses find their princes. These popular books are clearly aimed at teenagers, and the question is: are they indecent, innocent, or somewhere in between?
The Biggest Positive
The Lunar Chronicles had a surprising number of positive aspects. I’ll admit, I was skeptical about the covers! The best part about the series was its staunchly pro-life and anti-discrimination theme. In both earthen and lunar society, there is a lack of respect for the dignity of all human life.
On the earth, people who have received robotic parts, such as hands or feet, are considered as fair game to be used for medical research against their will. Labeled as “Cyborgs,” these people lack many of the rights and protections other earthen citizens have. Some, like the heroine of the series Cinder, are treated as property.
In lunar society, on the moon, some people are born with the “gift,” which is the ability to manipulate others by controlling their bio-electricity. Those unfortunate lunars who aren’t born with this “gift” are labeled as shells and torn from their parents at birth to be killed since they are “defective.” Some shells, like Cress, the heroine of the third book, do survive, but only as slaves.
Meyer does a fantastic job showing the appalling injustice of treating Cyborgs and shells as less than human. In our current society, this is truly a valuable theme. Any Catholic reader will immediately see parallels with abortion and euthanasia.
Other great themes in this book include an emphasis on showing the dangers and threat of totalitarianism and fascism. The lunar queen’s greed for power and adoration lead her to establish a dictatorship built on mind control and illusion. While her court lives in luxury, her people are impoverished and abused.
To give her full credit, Meyer does not fall into the trap of portraying the root of the queen’s evil to lie in the monarchy. Although the monarchy on the moon is portrayed as the example of fascism, Meyer fairly portrays several earthen countries as also having monarchies that are just. The problem is not the monarchy; it’s the coercion and injustice. However, in the end of the series, Cinder, crowned as moon queen, decides to dissolve the monarchy in favor of a republic.
Strong friendships have a prime place in the series. Without their mutual trust and respect, the four heroines could never have overthrown the moon queen’s evil regime. The girls’ friendships with their princes, and even android robots, become important in resolving the crisis. Loyalty, sacrifice, and love are the real tools that bring down the evil regime.
Redemption is another important motif in The Lunar Chronciles. Most of the “princes” are in need of redemption when they enter the story. Wolf is a volatile, genetically modified man with a dark past. Thorne is a cocky thief. Jacin is a palace guard with divided loyalties. The third heroine, Cress, also is plagued with guilt for working for the lunar tyrant for years as head programmer. Each of them finds redemption through sacrifice and reparation by the end of the series.
Unlike many teen novels, The Lunar Chronicles are relatively clean overall. Minimal crass language. Minimal mentions of alcohol or drugs. Almost no sexual content: there are several passionate kisses between main characters, but it doesn’t go farther than that. There are some passing mentions of “companionship” rooms and “escort” droids, which I deduced had to do with some kind of prostitute droids. But that’s it.
Sounding pretty great so far? Read on for the not so pretty.
One concern I had with the series was how Meyer handled the Red Riding Hood retelling in book two, Scarlet. Scarlet was great: fiery and tough. But Meyer chooses to twist the story so the Wolf becomes the “prince.” I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s great redemption here: the Wolf repents when he falls for the girl and spends the rest of the books trying to help the good side. But on the other hand, I think Meyer twisted the spirit of the original fairy tale by changing the wolf into the good guy. I generally don’t like plots where a villain symbol is portrayed as a good guy. And in fairy tales, wolves are the bad guys. But then, in fairness, St. Francis did redeem the wolf of Gubbio, so there is a certain precedent to redeeming the wolf.
Also, Wolf’s genetic engineering and past training as a wolf-man brings some other challenges to the series. His wolf-like instincts make him very protective of his “mate” Scarlet, but also bring violence into their relationship. At one point, he almost rips her throat out while under the mind control of a lunar villain. The thing that bothered me here and in a few other Wolf-Scarlet scenes was there seemed to be a sensual-sexual aspect to the violence. Almost a BDSM vibe. Subtle, but there in my opinion.
The violence is minimal in the first book, but quickly ramps up in the rest of the series. There is an awful war, with some truly terrible genetically engineered creatures running amuck. There are descriptions of people cutting their throats and shooting themselves under lunar mind control. Wolf-men rip out people’s throats. Lots of bloody fights. Overall, I considered these books a little heavy on the graphic violence.
Another element in the plot that never seemed to be adequately addressed was the mind control question. Mind control is portrayed as an evil overall, yet Cinder, the heroine, frequently uses it to protect herself and others. She also uses it to fight, and sometimes, in anger, to humiliate. In contrast to Cinder, Princess Winter in the fourth book simply refuses to use mind control for any reason… until in the end she does once to save her love. The question is: if mind control is evil, is it licit for Cinder and Winter to use it to protect others? Morally speaking, if mind control is inherently an evil act, using it for a good end still makes the act evil. Food for thought.
One final negative with The Lunar Chronicles is that they’re simply not all that well-written. Yes, it’s a fast-paced, exciting plot with lots of action and dialogue. But there is little to no descriptive language to flesh out the story. These books read like what they are: typical 21st century YA fiction.
Overall, The Lunar Chronicles are a gripping, fairly clean series with lots of action, romantic tension, and a great pro-life theme. But on the other hand, they’re not particularly well written, not great literature, and have some concerning elements like the confusion about mind control, sensual violence at times, and overall graphic violence. Worth reading? Maybe if you have an older teen who really enjoys science fiction and wants to use them for a book report to delve into some of the controversial topics. Otherwise, I’d give them a pass.