“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

“Blessed Carlo Acutis” Review

book cover blessed carlo acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven

Last fall, my family “discovered” Blessed Carlo Acutis through a Holy Heroes Glory Story CD. We learned about this amazing youth who managed to accomplish so much in just fifteen short years of life. My kids were enthralled not only by how young he was but how recently he had lived and how similar his life was to theirs. He died only a few years before they were born! He wore jeans! He used a computer!

A Saint for 21st Century Kids

My kids aren’t the only ones who love Blessed Carlo and feel an instant connection to his story. This young man is inspiring kids around the world as his story spreads. Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven is a brand-new book by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi. Drawing on Church documents and interviews, especially personal interviews with Carlo’s mother, Ferrisi retells Carlo’s life story. Kids (and adults!) can learn about his Eucharistic devotion, charity work, favorite pets, love for computer programming and film making, and much more!

But Ferrisi also includes an explanation of the official path to a declaration of sainthood. Kids will learn about the 3 stages on the way and what is required at each stage. They’ll be even more amazed that Carlo was declared a Blessed less than 15 years after his death!

There’s also plenty of color photos of Carlo, his family, and more for kids who love visuals.

Who Will Enjoy This Book?

Target age: middle grades through high school. But younger kids will enjoy hearing parts of the book read aloud, especially if they’re already familiar with Blessed Carlo’s life from Glory Stories. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly as an adult. I was touched and inspired by Blessed Carlo’s love for both God and neighbor. This young Blessed’s life truly exemplifies the two great commandments!

You can order your copy of Blessed Carlo Acutis from publisher Holy Heroes. Enter the discount cod CARLO15 to get 15% off your purchase to celebrate this new relase!

No affiliate link here, just a really awesome saint and story I wanted to share!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager” in Heaven in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!

“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 “Armor of God” Series

armor of God book 1 cover

Chivalry and Catholic Virtues meet in Theresa Linden’s Armor of God series, specially written for First Communicants.

Have or know a child who’s preparing for or just made their First Holy Communion? This series is just for them! Theresa Linden explores the six parts of the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6 against a interest-catching backdrop of knights and quests. These books are sure to captivate 6-8 year old Catholic children and help them internalize and desire the virtues!

In the first book, Belt of Truth, George, a young page, has a lying problem.

George wants more than anything to be a knight. When he learns that Truthfulness is a necessary virtue, he’s dismayed. How can he stop lying when it seems like the best way to solve his problems and keep out of trouble? Watch George grow and practice virtue throughout this first book so that when he really gets in trouble, he is able to stand strong and tell the truth. He earns his first piece of armor: the Belt of Truth.

As the series continues, George learns about the other parts of a knight’s armor and other virtues including Righteousness, Peacefulness, and Faithfulness.

There’s also plenty of scuffles, sword fighting, horses, dragons, and more. Parents can feel good about giving this clean, virtue-driven series to their young kids to read. And kids can enjoy the fun of the chivalric era while imbibing some good morals.

Is the Armor of God series just for boys?

Nope! Girls will enjoy the fact that the knight school is for boys and girls! Boys train to be knights, and girls train to be dames. But they all get to practice all the fun parts of training. A girl is one of the three main characters that carry the series.

To buy the Armor of God Series, you can use my Amazon affiliate link to Belt of Truth or buy directly through the author’s website TheresaLinden.com!

white and brown animals near fence

Homesteading Picture Books

In 2019 our family made the big decision to leave military life and settle down to live in our homestate and start a small homesteading style farm. The last year and a half have been a whirlwind of planting, building, and learning. Many sheep, goats, ducks, dogs, and cats later, we’re thriving and so is the farm! Part of the joy of farm life for me has been discovering new (mostly old actually) homesteading picture books that capture the joy of farm life. Here are some of the homesteading picture books that we’ve grown to love this last year!

Homeplace is a wonderful exploration of a 6 generation farmstead. Each spread describes and pictures how the farm changed as each generation added on to the tiny log cabin and expanded farming operations.

Ox-Cart Man features pictures by the marvelous Barbara Cooney. This story follows a homestead family through the year as they grow and prepare products for the yearly market visit.

Yonder is a moving multi-generational story about a family who begins a homestead on a mountain. They plant a single tree in their orchard to begin, and add another for each birth, death, and important family event. Watch their orchard grow with the family as the circle of life continues.

In Apple Tree Christmas, a family lives above the farm animals in the barn. Poor but happy, the children take delight in the ancient apple tree- until one day a storm blows it down. Can their parents save Christmas?

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm was the book that made me want a homestead complete with all the animals when I was about 5 years old. Alice and Martin Provensen charmingly describe their array of animal friends with all their unique personalities and quirks.

Also check out The Year At Maple Hill Farm which takes you through each month of the year on the farm and the work that happens as the seasons change.

Head across the Pacific Ocean to a New Zealand farm with Days on the Farm. Author Kim Lewis lovingly paints and narrates simple stories about farm animals and children.

Have a child who doesn’t have the attention span for Little House on the Prairie yet? Check out the Little House Picture Books like Sugar Snow and Winter on the Farm that tell some of the best loved stories from the Little House series with lots of illustrations.

You may also enjoy my list The Best Farm Animal Picture Books!

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:

Review of “Discover the Brothers”

Introduce your children to a plethora of religious orders with Jake Thibault’s unique new books: Discover the Brothers and It’s Fun to be a Nun.

Do you know how many religious orders there are? Actually, I don’t either! But I learned about many I have never heard of in these colorful and engaging new books. On each page, there’s a detailed drawing of a Religious Brother (or Sister in the companion book) carrying out the particular charism of his order. Some brothers are serving the poor, others teaching, others praying, singing, even cooking! Each page also has the charism or motto of the order written out for you.

In the tradition of religious brothers having a special devotion to Our Lady, each page also contains a Marian image. Play I-Spy with a younger kid, or have an older kid try to remember all the different titles of Our Lady as you page through Discover the Brothers.

Also check out the sister book (haha, get it, Sister book?) about nuns: It’s Fun to be a Nun. You’ll learn about many orders of Sisters and their missions and charisms.

Carthusian? Dominican? Trappist? Franciscan?

As someone who never learned to identify religious orders by their habits, I’m hoping these books will help my kids and I become more knowledgeable about the differences between orders. I’m envisioning this turning into a Catholic card game: name the religious habit and charism!

(Note that both books focus primarily on traditional orders with religious habits but there is one to two orders featured, out of 30 plus in each book, that do not have a habit.)

I really like the idea of giving my kids more exposure to religious orders. These books seem like a great place to start! They reminded me of what a wealth of different orders are out there- one to fit any person drawn to a religious vocation.

You can buy both books through my affiliate links: Discover the Brothers and It’s Fun to be a Nun.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Discover the Brothers’ and “It’s Fun to be a Nun” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Find more of my favorite Catholic picture books on my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners .

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.

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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.