“The Ark” and “Rowan Farm” Review

the ark by margot benary isbert cover

Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees

There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.

Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!

The Ark

In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.

The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.

Rowan Farm

A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.

Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.

There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.

In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.

Clean and Charming

The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.

Buy both books through my Amazon Affiliate links: The Ark and Rowan Farm

“How the Angels Got Their Wings” Review

How the Angels Got Their Wings, cover

Gorgeous and Grace-Filled!

In his latest picture book, How the Angels Got Their Wings, Anthony DeStefano continues his pattern of producing beautiful books for children. In this new book, he explains in his trademark gently rhythmic verse who the angels are, why some angels are bad, who the archangels are and what they’re known for, and where we might find them.

An Exciting Drama

Angels are a fun topic for kids. These amazing rational beings with real superpowers fascinate my kids. My five year old loved the vivid illustrations in How the Angels Got Their Wings, especially the cosmic battle between the good and bad angels. She also loved the concept of looking for angels in daily life. Whether they’re in disguise or invisible, we’re surrounded by these amazing beings all the time and definitely don’t think about it enough! This picture book will help kids of all ages to connect more deeply with these heavenly friends.

Find Out More

Note that particularly young or very sensitive children may be upset by the images of the devil, so be sure and check out the full length picture preview of the book on Sophia Institute Press before buying if you have very young ones.

You can buy this gorgeous and grace-filled picture book through my Amazon affiliate link, How the Angels Got Their Wings, or from publisher Sophia Institute Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “How The Angels Got Their Wings” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Love beautiful Catholic picture books?

Check out my reviews of some of the other great offerings in recent years from Sophia Institute Press!

Review of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit 451 cover

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.

Fahrenheit 451 is timely

For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!

Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.

Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.

The Power of History and Education

Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.

But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.

A Warning and a Hope

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.

Older Teens Should Read It

Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.

The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.

Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)

But Also Adults

But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.

You can buy a copy through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

To find more books your high schoolers may enjoy, check out my book lists, especially Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 (Age 14 and up) and Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 2 (Age 16 and up).

Review of “Brave Books”

The Island of Free Ice Cream - Book 3 - Jack Posobiec

Discover Freedom Island, where “The Brave” citizens fight against the villains who strive to take away their freedoms and corrupt their culture.

This new series presents issues like Communism, Critical Race Theory, the Sanctity of Life, and 2nd Amendment Rights in a way that 4-10 year olds can understand. Each book contains an animal story in the time-honored tradition of Aesop.

An animal on Freedom Island confronts a tricky situation in each book. For example, in “Elephants are Not Birds” Kevin the elephant loves to sing. A “friend” suggests that this means he is actually a bird. But will trying to be a bird make Kevin happy and fulfilled and free?

In “The Island of Free Ice Cream,” the animals of Freedom Island discover that when something is presented as “free” they need to be skeptical. In “Little Lives Matter” Mother Bear refuses to give up on her disabled bear cub Mobi. And when she is old he won’t give up on her either. In “Paws off My Cannon,” the animals keep losing their cupcakes to the aggressive hyenas and can’t agree on whether the cannons or the hyenas are the problem until they try an experiment.

A story, games, missions, and more!

Each book contains a story, family or classroom game ideas, missions, discussion points for further clarification, and more! There’s even a giant map of the island so you can really immerse your kids in the “Brave” universe. These books would be great to use as a framework for a weekly or monthly class. I think they’re best for 6-10 year olds although a mature 4-5 year old would also understand most of the stories.

So far, there are 7 books in the The Brave series with many more planned. This is an inspiring effort by a collaboration of established writers and media figures who believe strongly in core American values and freedoms. There is no specific political agenda being pushed here per se. Rather, the focus is on individual issues such as sanctity of life, cancel culture, truth, gender identity, and so forth.

The author and publisher clearly put a lot of thought and work into creating a quality teaching product with Brave Books. I think you’ll be impressed!

You can order Brave Books as a monthly subscription or as single books through the publisher: Brave Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Saga One from Brave Books in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

You may also be interested in some of my other Book Lists and Reviews such as:

GIVEAWAY and Review of “Champions of the Rosary”

Have you ever heard of the only approved American apparition of Our Lady?

I’d read about Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe with my kids. All the famous apparitions. But when it came to our own country, I knew just enough to know that there had been an American apparition in Wisconsin, but that was it. If your family is like mine, you’ll be as excited as we were to learn more about the apparitions and miracles right here in our own country! Let me tell you about Champions of the Rosary, a new historical fiction novel from author Laurie Schmitt.

champions of the rosary book cover

In 1859, Our Lady appeared to a young girl named Adele Brise in Wisconsin.

Our Lady asked Adele to pray and teach the children in rural Wisconsin their Catechism. A convent and Chapel were eventually built to fulfil the request of Our Lady of Good Help, as this apparition was dubbed. And did she ever help the people of Wisconsin! This book recounts the miracles that occurred at the apparition site in future years such as miraculous healings.

The most stunning miracle occurred during the terrible Peshtigo Fire of 1871. As thousands of acres around burned, then-Sister Adele led the local people in a rosary procession around the grounds of the convent. Miraculously, the convent acreage was completely spared: a verdant green island in the midst of hundreds of miles of devastation on all sides.

This is a beautiful story about a family struggling through tough times and turning to Our Lady for hope and healing.

It’s also an intense story since the backdrop is the Peshtigo Fire which ravaged the countryside (I recommend for ages 10 and up). Tweens and teens will be caught up in the drama of a natural disaster unfolding while also learning about this beautiful apparition with a message of hope for our country.

If you’re as excited to read this book as my family was, I have good news: I’m giving away FREE copies of Champions of the Rosary and Laurie Schmitt’s other historical fiction novel, Lepanto’s Lady!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lepanto’s Lady is another great historical fiction novel with a Marian theme. In Lepanto’s Lady, watch the events of the momentous Battle of Lepanto unfold through the eyes of young Rosa. Learn about the origins of the October 8th feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

You can buy Champions of the Rosary through my amazon affiliate link: Champions of the Rosary

Our Lady of Good Help, Pray for Us! Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for Us!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Champions of the Rosary” and “Lepanto’s Lady” from the St. Paul Center in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

National Novena to Our Lady of Good Help | The National ...
Image of Our Lady of Good Help- isn’t she beautiful?
selective focus photography of gray donkey eating grass

Review of “Joseph’s Donkey”

In the spirit of the Year of St. Joseph, here’s a new Christmas story for your family about Joseph’s Donkey.

joseph's donkey cover image

From the author and illustrator that brought us the beautiful and bestselling Our Lady’s Wardrobe and Our Lady’s Picture Book, here’s a brand new book to put under your Christmas tree this year!

Joseph’s Donkey is a gorgeously illustrated story about the gentle earthly father of Jesus and his equally quiet and noble helper. See the events of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, the Christ Child’s childhood, Egypt and back again, and the quiet years at Nazareth through the eyes of this gentle donkey.

Little children will love the detailed depictions of the Holy Family’s life and affection for one another.

The gentle, rhythmic poem captures the spirit of these years of peace and harmony. Sometimes we forget the decades of silence before Jesus began his public ministry!

Animal loving children will also love the pictures of a young Jesus with his donkey.

Death and New Life

The story concludes with the death of the donkey at an advanced age. I’ve noticed a theme in Anthony DeStefano’s books: he wants children to experience death as an opening of the eyes to a richer, brighter new life. Like the Seed in The Seed Who was Afraid to Be Planted, Joseph’s donkey falls asleep to wake to a more beautiful world than he had ever imagined.

If you love St. Joseph, you’ll enjoy this lovely and luminous book!

Find it for sale through my Amazon affiliate link: Joseph’s Donkey

Or find it on my Christmas Picture Book list at Bookshop!

To see more of my favorite Christmas picture books, check out my complete list:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Joseph’s Donkey” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

“The Night the Saints Saved Christmas” Review

the night the saints saved christmas cover image

What if Saint Nicholas got sick on Christmas Eve?

In this fanciful new Christmas story, author Gracie Jagla comes up with an imaginative solution. All the saints of heaven work together to save Christmas by delivering gifts to their homelands! From Saint Joan of Arc on her horse to Saint John Paul II on his skis, each saint finds a way to bring gifts to their country’s children.

The Nights the Saints Saved Christmas is a beautifully illustrated celebration of the Communion of Saints and the true meaning of Christmas.

Your little ones will learn a bit about some great Saints in this gently rhyming story. Short text and detailed illustrations combine to make this the perfect Christmas story for the 2-6 year old crowd!

Parents will appreciate the focus on giving versus receiving. There’s also a tie in to the true meaning of Christmas being adoring the Christ Child versus the presents.

Who is Santa Claus?

I loved how The Night the Saints Saved Christmas affirms Sant Claus’s sainthood! As you may know, “Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch for St. Nicholas. This book acknowledges the popular western custom of attributing Christmas gifts to St. Nicholas without undermining the true meaning of Christmas.

Whether you “do” Santa Claus or not, your kids will enjoy this whimsical story about the saints working together to help the children of earth. See if you can spot some of your favorite saints; my kids were excited to see Pier Giorgio Frassati and the Fatima children!

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link: The Night the Saints Saved Christmas

Or buy it through my Bookshop page: Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

To see more of my favorite Christmas books, check out my list of Favorite Christmas Picture Books.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Night the Saints Saved Christmas” from Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

“The Beggar and the Bluebird” Review

Releasing This Week!

I was super excited to get an advance look at Anthony DeStefano’s newest book, The Beggar and the Bluebird. This new book for Christmas 2021 is a truly beautiful story about sacrifice, charity, and the true meaning of gift giving.

Did you know that bluebirds traditionally have symbolized beauty, joy, and messages from God? In this story, a bluebird is about to fly south for the winter when a ragged beggar asks for help delivering a gift. The bluebird finds itself helping the poorest of the poor, the sick, and the hopeless.

The little bluebird literally gives until it hurts! It ends up dying in the snow from cold and weariness. Then, a miracle occurs, and the bluebird finds itself the one receiving a wonderful gift.

A Christmas Fairy Tale

The Beggar and the Bluebird is a fairy tale which pushes the reader to look beneath the surface, to see beyond the beggar’s rags. It’s a story about the true meaning of Christmas: to give not to get. Hopefully, children will be moved to think about Christmas giving in a more other-focused way.

Trust God

It’s also a story about trusting in God’s plans. The bluebird judges that it needs to fly south right away for its own protection. But when it opens itself up to helping others, allows a heavenly plan to unfold, it finds more happiness than it imagined possible. In many ways, this story’s themes reminded me of another DeStefano story I loved, The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted.

Another book for the Christmas Collection

This latest Anthony DeStefano book definitely deserves a place in your Christmas book collection!

You can buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Beggar and Bluebird

Or you can buy it through my BookShop page: Christmas Book List

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

“The Christmas Light” Review

the christmas light book cover

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

John 1:9

One icy cold night, an innkeeper’s daughter awakens angry at her discomfort and poverty. But then, she remembers someone who must be even colder than she is: a tiny newborn baby in the family stable. Moved by pity for the young family in the drafty stable, the girl decides to bring them light to make a fire. But when she meets the infant Jesus, her own heart fills with fire and her life is changed forever.

A Wonderful Picture Book for the Family Collection

This lovely new Christmas story would make a perfect edition to your family Christmas Book Collection! I loved the evocative descriptions of the textures, sounds, and feelings the girl experiences. Author Claudia Cangilla McAdam really brings a cold night in Bethlehem to life for readers. I also loved the light symbolism throughout.

The best part of the story is the transformation from anger to joy that the young girl experiences after encountering the Christ Child. This book illustrates that when we reach out to help others, we find unexpected happiness ourselves. In serving a stranger, the girl unknowingly serves Christ. This is a powerful message that will stick in children’s minds long after they’re grown up.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”

Psalm 30:11

Releasing for Christmas 2021

This book is available to order in time for Christmas 2021. It looks perfect for a St. Nicholas Day gift or Christmas present. I’ll be wrapping my copy to surprise my kids in our annual Christmas Book Advent Calendar tradition! They unwrap a book a day until Christmas. Some our old favorites and others are new surprises. Stay tuned over the next month as I check out some of the other exciting new Christmas books Catholic publishers are releasing this year!

You can see a full preview of “The Christmas Light” on the publisher website: Sophia Institute Press.

You can buy “The Christmas Light” through my Amazon affiliate link: The Christmas Light

Or you can buy it through my Bookshop Page: Christmas Books

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

“Adventures with Waffles” Review

"Adventures with Waffles" paperback cover

Adventures with Waffles

This little gem of a chapter book has been around for 15 years, but is newish to Americans. Norwegian author Maria Parr must have channeled Astrid Lindgren (you know, Pippi Longstocking?) to create the memorable duo in Adventures with Waffles. Beautiful Norway is the stunning backdrop to this memorable story about childhood friendship, family camaraderie, and overcoming loss.

Enter a remote Scandinavian village

It isn’t even a village. Just a few houses tucked in a remote cove. 8 year old friends Trille and Lena have to make their excitement and they do: boatloads of it! You’ll be charmed by sweet Trille’s narration of life in his hamlet, his love for his family, and his loyalty to his difficult best friend. From sledding in winter to bonfires in summer, the neighbors in this wintery wonderland enjoy everyday life.

Pro-Family

I loved the fact that Trille has an intact family with parents who love each other. He has three siblings, one of whom is adopted and comfortable with that. He lives in an intergenerational household; his grandfather has a flat in their basement and Trille loves having him there.

On the other hand, Lena lives with her single mother. She’s okay with this at first, but eventually begins to ask why she doesn’t have a father. In one of their notorious escapades, Lena and Trille decide to advertise and find a fitting father, confidently assuming her mother will be thrilled. While celebrating hardworking single parents, Adventures with Waffles conveys the intrinsic desire children have for both a mother and a father. It’s an affirmation of the importance of fathers! Now that is something you rarely see in a new children’s book!

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Adventures with Waffles isn’t all butterflies and daisies. Trille’s beloved waffle-making Auntie Granny dies midway through the book. Subtly but unmistakably Trille watches his family deal with the grief in their various ways. And he too has to come to terms with loss- and find ways to reawaken hope.

Trille and Lena also experience smaller losses and traumas: a horse they love is sent to the butcher and they scramble to save it. A fire threatens to destroy the family barn and animals. A bad sledding accident lands them in the hospital for a bit. In fact, they manage to crowd an inordinate number of misadventures into 230 pages! There’s no graphic violence though so all but the most sensitive readers shouldn’t be bothered.

Parental Warnings

Although I loved this book overall, I had two caveats when I went over my reading notes.

First, there’s a tiny bit of cruder humor at times, along the lines of putting out a bonfire with cow manure. Or a child making up a rhyme about moo and poo rhyming. I think it’s supposed to reflect that these are farm children used to the nitty gritty parts of farm life, so it didn’t bother me in this particular book. But just in case, note it’s there.

Second, there’s a little confusion about whether lying is always wrong. Some of this is a translation issue. I’m fairly certain that when the characters talk about “what good lies” someone tells in reference to tall tales, the translation should have been “what good stories” or “what good tales.”

Later on, there is a “ends justify means” message about lying. Trille, Lena, and his grandfather tell a string of lies to expedite their rescue of the aforementioned horse destined for the slaughter house. Trille is shocked by all the lying and his grandfather tells him, “Sometimes it’s all right to tell white lies, Trille.” I didn’t love this scenario in a book meant for 8-10 year olds. I would handle it with a discussion about how it lines up with what we believe as Catholics and how else the characters might have better handled the scenario.

Religion

Although most of the characters in this book are areligious, there’s a motif about a picture of Jesus. Trille’s Auntie Granny keeps a special picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd to remind her not to worry: he’s in control. After her death, Trille is allowed to pick anything from her entire house to keep for his very own. He chooses the special picture. Thenceforth, it’s a source of comfort to both him and Lena: a reminder that someone is watching over them. Kind of neat to see this in a secular book!

If you want to buy Adventures with Waffles, you can support Good Books for Catholic Kids by buying through my Amazon affiliate link: Adventures with Waffles

Or, you can buy through my Bookshop.org page: Adventures with Waffles on my Book Review List

For more of my favorite books for middle grade readers, check out My Book Lists, especially: