A 2018 offering from reputable Sophia Institute Press, Saints Chronicles Collection 1 is obviously an attempt to make the stories of saints from ancient and modern times compelling to today’s tweens and teens, who often prefer graphic novels and comic books to traditional chapter books. This is the first volume of four collections that Sophia is publishing, all similar comic book style volumes of about 120 pages. Each collection contains the stories of about five saints. This first collection tells the stories of Saint Patrick, Saint Jerome Emiliani, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Henry Morse, and Saint Joan of Arc. Saints Chronicles Collection 2 relates the stories of Saint Nicholas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Brigid of Ireland, Saint Pachomius, and Saint Anne Line.
These collections are visually arresting and fast-paced. I appreciated the focus question at the beginning of each story which hints at the theme to carry away. Though the stories themselves are not heavy on details, each one concludes with a one page summary of the life of the saint with important dates and life events in a timeline format.
The selection of saints is a thoughtful blend of the well known Saint Patrick and Saint Francis of Assisi combined with the unknown Saint Henry Morse and Saint Anne Line. I do wish the publisher had picked a few saints from more recent times like Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto or Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Maybe in a later collection.
This collection is appropriate for children as young as 7 or 8 in most regards, though if you have a sensitive child be forewarned. The saints are often in mortal danger or actually die in the course of the story. However, the pictures are not gory or gratuitously violent at all. For example, Saint Henry Morse is last shown at the gallows about to be hung, but not after he is hung. Saint Joan of Arc is not shown burning at the stake; the book simply says she was.
I am not personally a huge fan of the comic book style, but I know it is very popular these days! Overall, I think most people, especially tweens and teens, will find Saints Chronicles Collection 1 to be an enjoyable, informative comic book. I imagine this volume and its sequels will capture the imaginations of many children who might otherwise find the lives of the saints dull and dreary.
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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.
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.
Looking to incorporate more specifically Catholic books into your preschoolers and kindergartners’ reading? Here are some of my favorite books for gently introducing the basics of the Catholic faith to our children.
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For an introduction to the Bible, I like to use Maite Roche’s The Beautiful Story of the Bible. It is a greatly abbreviated and shortened picture Bible which covers some of the major Old Testament stories and the major events of Jesus’ life.
I also use The Illustrated Gospel for Children to provide a more detailed account of the Gospel story. My kids are always enthralled by the comic strip style illustrations, which are tastefully executed.
For praying the rosary with preschoolers, I find it helpful to use a book with illustrations for each mystery they can examine, and meditations to read if you can with their attention span. Praying the Rosary with Mary is by a contemporary Italian artist and works well. If you prefer more classical art like I do, then try The Rosary in Art for Children, which is written in the first person as from Mary to the child.
My three year old actually asks to pray the Stations of the Cross thanks to this simplified version. Stations of the Cross for Children has the traditional antiphon, then a short kid-friendly meditation on the station with a picture to look at.
We read The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith by Josephine Nobisso to introduce our children to the importance of the Mass. The baker in the story is awakened to the value of a Mass when all the goods in his shop prove to weigh less than a scrap of paper with “1 Mass” scribbled on it.
For a more modern Novus Ordo style Mass book, My First Interactive Mass Book is a good choice. There are a few interactive pages to help the child follow along. This second edition has a sturdy board book style construction to hold up to little hands using it every week!
For a kindergarten introduction to the saints, I like Ethel Pochocki’s Once upon a Time Saints. These are stories of less famous saints told in a fairy tale style which interests preschoolers. The lesson to be learned is that the saints were real people with real feelings, just like us.
Honorable mention for books about saints should be given to Fr. Lovasik’s series. Picture Book of Saints and its sequels provide biographies and pictures of a large number of saints. Fr. Lovasik also has short paperback books on the rosary, Mass, and many other topics.
What Can I Give God?, Will You Bless Me?, and Can God See Me in the Dark? are three charming Catholic books by Neil Lozano which answer common children’s questions about God through simple retellings of parts of the Gospels. The sense of love and closeness emanating from the family in the stories is like a warm blanket wrapping around you and your child as you read.
Before I Was Me is the story of a baby discussing his purpose in life with God, who guides the little one to see his own importance.
Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman is the perfect book to nourish a love for unborn babies in your child. This is a sweet story about an unborn baby’s experience in the womb and chats with its guardian angel.
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We start reading young around here! By the time our kids have their first birthday, they are usually happy listening to me read simple picture books. As always, my criteria include an inspiring theme, beautiful illustrations, and that my children approved. These books are great read alouds for a 1 to 2 year old, and preschoolers will also enjoy them.
What Did Baby Jesus Do? is a beautifully illustrated little board book talking about Jesus’ childhood. Themes: Jesus was God and man
Who is Coming to Our House? is a sweet board book which shows the barn animals preparing for baby Jesus’ arrival. Themes: Jesus coming, Christmas
The Word of the Lord and Cloud of Witnesses are part of a new series of board books from Katie Warner aimed at exposing the littlest Catholics to religious artwork and Catholic teaching! These are quality books that would make great gifts for a Baptism or baby shower. Themes: Bible, Jesus, Catholic Faith, Saints
Bear Wants More is a short rhyming board book about a very hungry bear. Themes: friendship, kindness
Baby Listens (Little Golden Book) helps teach little ones about their senses as baby experiences the sounds around him. Lots of onomatopoeic words keep the youngest readers engaged. Themes: attentiveness to the world around us
Going to Sleep on the Farm, with its beautiful illustrations of farm life, is a simple story of a father soothing his son to sleep. Themes: patience (for parents!)
Ask Mr. Bear is a story about a little boy searching for the perfect gift for his mother with some help from his animal friends. Themes: persistence, a giving spirit
Amy loves the wind and Amy loves the sun are sweet little old books about a toddler encountering the outdoors with her mother. Themes: enjoying nature
Biscuit Storybook Collection stories are somewhat repetitive but so loved by my children that I had to include them! Themes: friendship, gentleness to animals, forgiveness
Jamberry‘s gentle rhymes and clever illustrations make it another much loved and well worn toddler favorite around here. It is a rollicking little tale of a boy and bear searching for berries. Themes: enjoying nature, a cheerful attitude in adversity
Big Red Barn is a classic Margaret Wise Brown story, less well known than Goodnight Moon but equally enjoyable. Big Red Barn describes barnyard life, while Goodnight, Moon focuses on a room at bedtime. Themes: attention to the world around us, whether outdoors or just in our own room
Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book) is a great early book because it provides sensory stimulation which can engage a reluctant listener. Siblings Paul and Judy explore their house along with your child. Themes: sibling love, attentiveness to sensory information