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Review of “The Mitchells” Series

The Mitchells Five for Victory

A Hilarious Read Aloud

Do you want to enjoy reading aloud to your children but sometimes feel bored with the standard childhood read aloud canon? Check out The Michells series by Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic mom of six. In this semi-autobiographical series, Hilda Van Stockum perfectly captures the love, chaos, and hilarity of family life. It’s the perfect read aloud for parent and kids: the kids love the Mitchell children’s antics, and I laugh out loud in sympathy with the overwhelmed parents.

A Relatable Catholic Family

Any Anne of Green Gables fans out there? Do you remember the notoroious cake story and Anne’s early writing struggles? She only begins to achieve success when she begins writing about what she knows: small town life on the island.

Similarly, Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic convert and mother, writes this absolutely charming series about what she knows: life with half a dozen Catholic children.

The Mitchells aren’t a perfect family. Kids break things, lose their siblings, and lose their tempers. But they take care of each other, they apologize, and they work together to keep the home fires burning during World War II.

The first book, The Mitchells: Five for Victory, has the least overtly Catholic content. But in the second book, Canadian Summer, you will see the family going to great lengths to attend Mass. Actually, Mother’s determination to bring the whole family to Mass despite no car, mud puddles, dusty roads, only two bikes, and runaway dogs is quite touching.

Meet the Mitchells

Joan is the responsible oldest girl who’s determined to keep all the children in line. Patsy is a dreamy artist. Peter’s a sturdy boy who feels responsible for protecting his sisters. Angela has the golden curls and blue eyes of an angel and makes more trouble than a houseful of animals. Timmy is a serious baby who bites everything.

Then there’s Granny, a delightful Dutchwoman who doesn’t let her age keep her from adventure. Mother is, refreshingly, an achingly realistic parent who rushes around distributing love and discipline in equal measures. Last but not least, there’s Father, who leaves to fight in World War II as Five for Victory begins with the parting admonition: “NO PETS!”

Of course, the family somehow ends up with a rabbit, some fish, a parrot, a kitten, a squirrel, and a dog by the last chapter…

Subsequent Books

In Canadian Summer, the Mitchells move to Canada. Housing is difficult to find, so Father optimistically rents a remote ski cabin miles inaccessible by road and without power. Mother is not pleased to put it mildly, but over the course of the summer the Mitchells all learn the grace of having less and make new French Canadian Catholic friends.

The last book, Friendly Gables, picks up years later with the oldest Mitchells children in high school. This one has more focus on school interactions and Joan coming of age so is generally more interesting for the 11+ crowd.

Where can I buy the books?

In addition to being a fantastic read aloud, the Mitchell series is a wonderful choice for a middle grade independent reader.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory and its sequels are kept in print by Catholic publisher Bethlehem Books. You can buy the books on their website. The best time to buy is when they run a 50% off sale, usually in November/December.

You can also buy the books through my affiliate links: Five for Victory, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables.

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Good News Book Shop: A Catholic Bookstore

Looking for an online Catholic Book Store to browse and support? Check out Good News Book Shop, a Catholic-owned online bookstore also that provides quality books for School Book Sales and Homeschool Fundraisers.

Good News Book Shop - Catholic books, Christian books and clean reads for kids and adults

What makes Good News Book Shop different? The owners are committed to only offering titles whose content is in line with our Catholic faith. You (or your kids) can safely peruse this book store without being bombarded with graphic or offensive titles.

You can find many of the books which I recommend for your family library at this online Catholic bookstore. Their pricing is affordable and they offer free shipping on orders over $35. I’m excited to use this Amazon alternative when I can.

Check out this sampling of favorites from my lists that are now available through this online Catholic bookstore! And stay tuned for Good News Book Shop to begin carrying more of the titles we love here at Good Books for Catholic Kids.

Children’s Classics

Adult Classics

Saint Books

Children’s Classics

The Boxcar Children Fully Illustrated Edition by Warner, Gertrude Chandler
The Wind in the Willows by Grahame, Kenneth
Around the World in Eighty Days by Verne, Jules
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Twain, Mark
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain, Mark
The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again by Tolkien, J. R. R.
Anne of Green Gables by Montgomery, L. M.
The Railway Children by Nesbit, E.
The Red Badge of Courage by Crane, Stephen

Adult Classics

A Tale of Two Cities: A Story of the French Revolution by Dickens, Charles
Voyage to Alpha Centauri by O'Brien, Michael D.
Joan of Arc by Twain, Mark

Saint Books

A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of Saint Camillus de Lellis by Peek, Susan
Maximilian Kolbe: A Saint in Auschwitz by Vivier, Jean- Francois
Saint Francis of the Seven Seas by Nevins, Albert J.
Blessed Francisco Marto of Fatima by Cirrincione
Father Miguel Pro: A Modern Mexican Martyr by Muller, Gerald
Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Swaim, Colleen
Saints Chronicles Collection 5 by Sophia Institute Press
Francis and Clare, Saints of Assisi by Homan, Helen Walker
Lay Saints: Models of Family Life by Cruz, Joan Carroll

Check out these titles and more at Good News Book Shop!

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28 Favorite Books for Catholic Book Clubs

Would it surprise you to learn I don’t have a single favorite book of all time? As any true bibliophile knows, asking a book worm to choose a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It’s just not done.

Even choosing a list of favorites is almost impossible. The only way I can pick favorites is by having a clear purpose. So here you have my favorite books for Catholic book clubs. You’ll find a mix of classics and modern classics and a few quirky little known titles. In a book club, the main criterion is that the book provokes a good discussion, so don’t be surprised to see controversial titles on here!

7 Classic Books for your Book Club

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Evelyn Waugh’s classic story about Charles Ryder’s unexpected conversion is sure to spark a lively discussion. Does he convert due to the troubled Catholic family he meets or despite them?

Buy it through my affiliate link: Brideshead Revisited

Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter is a lovely, thoughtful social commentary on the evolution and disappearance of family farming over the course of one woman’s life. Bittersweet and thought-provoking, this is one of the best books I read this year.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Hannah Coulter

This accessible Russian classic is a lengthy but very rewarding story of sin and redemption.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Crime and Punishment

Love it or hate it, Kristin Lavansdatter is a Scandinavian classic. Every woman identifies with some of Kristin’s struggles, joys, sins, disappointments, and atonement.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Kristin Lavransdatter

Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a sweeping American generational story. His very realistic characters plumb the depths of sin yet show the flashes of grace in everyday life. For a much shorter yet equally gripping Steinbeck novel, try The Pearl.

Buy it through my affiliate link: East of Eden and The Pearl

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Consider Golden Age of Mystery detective story writers like Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie for a lighter classic book club pick. Gaudy Night is often called Dorothy Sayers’ best work. Agatha Christie said one of her favorite mysteries was Crooked house.

Buy them through my affiliate links: Gaudy Night and Crooked House

Here’s an early example of dystopian literature that is particularly relevant today. Bradbury’s creepy yet captivating story about freedom of speech and thought is as timely now as when it was published.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

7 Christian Classics for your Book club

A love story, a conversion story, and a story of loss: this book is complex and beautiful. Perfect for fans of C. S. Lewis!

Buy it through my affiliate link: A Severe Mercy

Speaking of C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite books is his retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth in Till We Have Faces. This book inspired one of the best discussion nights at my book club!

Buy it through my affiliate link: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

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One more C. S. Lewis book! If you are looking for a shorter allegorical type book, The Great Divorce is a fine contribution to the tradition of spiritual journey books such as The Divine Comedy.

Buy it through my affiliate link: The Great Divorce

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Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In this House of Brede are two Rumer Godden books guaranteed to thrill and surprise you. Soaring stories with deep insight into human nature. Check out my review of Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy here!

Buy through my affiliate link: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In this House of Brede

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G. K. Chesterton’s name is synonymous with perfect paradoxes and incredible ingenuity in imagination in the best literary circles. For a first foray into this masterful Catholic writer’s fiction, try Manalive or The Man Who was Thursday. For non-fiction, I recommend trying The Everlasting Man.

Buy through my affiliate link: Manalive, The Man Who Was Thursday, The Everlasting Man

The beloved Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux is brought to Catholics in a reader-friendly meditation style in I Believe in Love. This makes a lovely book to read during Lent, Advent, or any time you desire a spiritual classic.

Buy through my affiliate link: I Believe in Love

Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of Godis one of the most lovely and transformative Marian books I’ve ever read.

Buy it through my affiliate link: The Reed of God

7 Non-fiction Titles for your Book Club

Quiet was a transformative book for me in accepting and even embracing my identity as an introvert. I recommend it for a book club that likes science-backed books. Introverted Mom is a similar introvert-focused book with a more personal, feelings-based flavor. For a full review of Introverted Mom click here!

Buy either through my affiliate link: Quiet and Introverted Mom

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The Girl with the Seven Names is a saddening, surprising, enlightening book about what it’s really like to grow up in North Korea. This is a great contemporary book pick that highlights current day issues.

Buy through my affiliate link: The Girl with Seven Names

I’ve read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books with great interest. You may find yourself disagreeing with his conclusions at times, but Outliers, Blink, and his other books are fascinating and may startle you out of preconceptions about how success is achieved, how we make decisions, and more.

Buy through my affiliate links: Outliers: The Story of Success and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks highlights ethical and racial issues in American medicine. Sure to generate a spirited discussion!

Buy through my affiliate link: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Boys in the Boat is a quintessential American success story about nine working class young men who are determined to beat the odds and win a rowing gold in the 1936 Olympics.

Buy through my affiliate link: The Boys in the Boat

J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a modern day Cinderella story. This young man from a broken, addiction-ridden family succeeded in attending Harvard Law. Vance’s thought-provoking take on Appalachian America problems is balanced by his obvious love for his region and family. Quite a bit of language and domestic violence.

Buy through my affiliate link: Hillbilly Elegy

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Educated is another memoir about a girl from a dysfunctional family who achieved academic success. Lots to discuss in this controversial memoir! Check out my full review here! Trigger warning: domestic violence.

Buy through my affiliate link: Educated: A Memoir

7 Contemporary Fiction Titles for your Book Club

A Man Called Ove is one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the cover. An isolated elderly man has just decided to commit suicide when his friendly neighbors move in and turn his life upside down. A little crass, some language, but still very worth reading.

Buy it through my affiliate link: A Man Called Ove

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is quickly becoming a modern day classic. This charming story pulls at your heart strings, and every book club will love the themes about books changing the course of peoples’ lives.

Buy it through my affiliate link: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A Russian aristocrat is told he must live the rest of his life in a luxury hotel. Great themes about friendship, isolation, civility, and community.

Buy through my affiliate link: A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel

This lyrical bestseller by Delia Owens is such a beautifully written book I had to include it despite some reservations. Pros: gripping coming of age story about an isolated child in the swamps; beautiful language and tribute to the beauty of creation. Cons: unnecessary sensuality and sex scene, not integral to plot and easily skipped.

Buy through my affiliate link:

Where the Crawdads Sing

The Nightingale is a book that delves deep into the horror of life in occupied France during World War II. But it’s also a celebration of the strength and courage of the French women who helped win the war in diverse ways.

Trigger warning: lots of violence, rape, a little language.

Buy through my affiliate link: The Nightingale: A Novel

One last WWII novel! All the Light We Cannot See is a fascinating story about two children, one French and one German, growing up in the years leading up to WWII. A clever juxtaposition of their points of view carries the story towards their inevitable meeting in occupied France.

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In this unexpected novel by a Spanish author, a typical young woman comes to an eccentric town that seems to exist outside of (or in spite of) the modern world. Lots to unpack in this book about distributism, classical education, the role of women and men, and more.

Buy through my affiliate link: The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel

To buy these books through Bookshop, a website that supports indpendent bookshops, check out my affiliate page there: https://bookshop.org/lists/book-club-picks-4625ebbd-eec9-421b-bf20-91cbf1cbd5a2

Review of “Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz”

St. Maximilian Kolbe is truly a saint for day modern-day Catholics to admire and emulate. From his successful media outreach work to his missionary work to his sacrificial death, St. Maximilian Kolbe lived a life of charity and love. This exciting new graphic novel from Sophia Institute Press brings St. Maximilian Koble’s story to life with high quality illustrations and photographs of the saint.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

The Whole Story

Most Catholics are familiar with St. Maximilian Kolbe’s dramatic sacrificial death as Auschwitz: so much so that he is often known as The Saint of Auschwitz. But this graphic novel delves deeper and follows the thread of Maximilian’s life from childhood to death. Through St. Maximilian’s remembrances in concentration camp, you will learn about Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s work establishing the Militia of the Immaculata, establishment of Catholic magazines and newspapers, missionary work in Japan, and more. As I read The Saint of Auschwitz, I was blown away by how much a young priest with tuberculosis accomplished in his short life.

Inspiration for Today’s Teens

This graphic novel will powerfully motivate tweens, teens, and even adults to live life with joy, charity, and a missionary zeal in the spirit of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I think most tweens will be fine with the level of intensity. St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story is sad and intense; fifteen days in a bunker waiting to die of hunger and thirst is a horrifying death. But his choice to embrace this death out of charity for a stranger and his joy in suffering is an inspiration that today’s youth will respond to with enthusiasm.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more great graphic novels for Catholic kids? Check out my list of Graphic Novels and Comic Books!

Review of “Shadow in the Dark”

Shadow in the Dark book cover. Catholic book review.

Step straight into Medieval England as you open Shadow in the Dark, the first volume in a brand new series by Antony Kolenc. With a meticulous attention to the historical setting and thoughtful insight into Medieval Catholicism, Kolenc weaves a fascinating and exciting tale. The story begins with young Xan’s dramatic conflict with a band of robbers, which results in Xan losing his family, memory, and feeling of identity. While packing in plenty of action, what makes Shadow in the Dark really stand out among middle grade historical fiction is Xan’s insightful search for the meaning of his suffering and journey of faith.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

What is Identity?

12 year old Xan loses his memory completely at the beginning of the book which leads him to question who he is, and seek a purpose in life. Although most tweens and young teens don’t have to deal with amnesia, they will identify with Xan’s quest to define himself and his place in life. A major theme in Shadow in the Dark is Xan’s quest for identity. He looks to his new “family” of monks at Hardwell Abbey for assistance in his search.

A wise nun tells him: “If you find our purpose- where you fit into this new life of yours- then you will find your joy again.” One of the monks suggests that Xan may find meaning in learning to read and write and study. Later, Xan begins to see himself as an integral part of God’s plan for the Abbey: the boy who can solve the mystery. When Xan begins to see himself as following God’s plan, he begins to find peace. This message about identity being found in your vocation, in doing God’s will, is a great one for young teens to read!

Meaning in Suffering

Twined with Xan’s search for meaning is his struggle to understand his own suffering: why did his parents die? Why did he lose his memory? Difficult questions, and Shadow in the Dark doesn’t give a trite answer. Eventually, with prayer and thought, Xan accepts that his parents are in heaven and, in a way, better off, though he will always miss them. As he sees his purpose in God’s plan for the Abbey, he begins to glimpse meaning in his own suffering. The question of suffering is another great subject for tweens and teens to begin to ponder, since this is an inevitable question in any Christian’s life.

Bullying and Friendship

When Xan joins the other orphan boys at the Abbey, he immediately runs afoul of the bully, John. Shadow in the Dark does a wonderful job depicting Xan’s initial attempts to avoid trouble and eventual rise to the occasion to protect the younger boys. Even better, Xan later works as a peacemaker and gives John a role in solving the Abbey mystery. In the end, Xan and John are striking up a friendship.

Reading Historical Fiction Critically

Although I loved Shadow in the Dark as a whole, there are a few points parents may want to be aware of for an advance discussion with their children. Author Kolenc definitely agrees with this; he provides a handy preface that encourages his young readers to notice historical differences in practice and attitude and evaluate whether these differences are positive or negative. For example, there’s one old monk who has special permission from his Abbot to engage in self flagellation to unite himself with Christ’s sufferings. The other monks emphasize that this is a “dangerous” practice and only to be undertaken with special permission from a religious superior.

Emotional Cliff Hanger Conclusion

Although I loved the emphasis on identity and meaning in suffering, and Xan grew a lot over the course of the book, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey! In the poignant conclusion, Xan witnesses the Abbot forgive and spare the life of a bandit. This bandit not only tried to kill the Abbot, but is also responsible for the death of Xan’s parents and many others. The Abbot, with infinite wisdom and holiness, extends forgiveness and touches the bandit’s heart, moving him to repentance. However, Xan, furious still about his parents’ deaths, feels no forgiveness towards the man who is responsible. Clearly, Xan still has a long way to go on his spiritual journey! Hopefully the second volume will follow soon so we can find out how he learns to forgive!

Great for the Middle Grades

5th-8th grade tweens and teens will enjoy this masterfully constructed historical fiction novel. There’s adventure, there’s mystery, there’s justice, there’s friendship. Xan is a relatable hero grappling with common coming of age problems. The overall positive depiction of a medieval Abbey as a center of learning and charitable works is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the future volumes in this series!

Shadow in the Dark is available for pre-order now!

I received a copy of “Shadow in the Dark” from Loyola Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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50 Beautiful Picture Books You Will Want to Own

The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immersed while living here below, and in providing a window to the infinite for his hungry soul.

“The Function of Art” ~ Pope Pius XII

In our family, one way we find that glimpse into the infinite is through beautiful picture books. The artists and illustrators of the books listed here have used their talents to provide children with truly beautiful pictures which fill their hearts with a love for beauty. As they grow older, that foundation will prepare them to contemplate the beauty and majesty of their Creator.

We love Josephine Nobisso’s wonderful Catholic stories which are beautifully complemented by Katlin Szegedi’s luminous illustrations. Check out both their collaborations: The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith and Take It to the Queen: A Tale of Hope.

This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, which means that I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

Elsa Beskow’s attention to detail and soft watercolors are so enchanting! Peter’s Old House is a heart-warming story of a community coming together to rebuild a kind but poor neighbor’s house.

Many of Elsa Beskow’s stories, like Peter in Blueberry Land, have a fairy tale quality that works perfectly with her delicate, lovely illustrations.

Demi’s masterful and original artwork complement several beautiful books about the saints, including: Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bernadette, and Hildegard of Bingen.

Demi’s masterful and original artwork complement several beautiful books about the saints, including: Saint Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and Saint Bernadette and the Miracles of Lourdes.

Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella retelling has the most gorgeous fairy tale illustrations with lots of silvers and magical glows. She also hsa other incredibly beautiful versions of classic fairy tales like Rose Red and Snow White.

We also enjoy Sanderson’s versions of unique fairy tales from around the world such as The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring and The Enchanted Wood.

Ruth Sanderson also has illustrated some lovely religious books, like The Nativity and Saints: Lives & Illuminations.

The Complete Brambly Hedge is chock-full of lovely, detailed nature illustrations and perfectly whiskered mice. We love these peaceful stories, perfect for a summer day.

British author and illustrator Jane Hissey draws the most charming pictures of huggable stuffed animals. We love The Old Bear Collection and all its sequels.

Miss Rumphius wants to make the world a more beautiful place. So, apparently, does author and illustrator Barbara Cooney, whose delicate depictions of coastal New England make me want to visit.

Jan Brett has perfected picture books for children. Simple but entertaining stories, often based on fairy tales, and the most detailed artwork you’ll ever see. Children spend hours pouring over her books. Some of our favorites include: Mossy, Annie and the Wild Animals, The Hat, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, and Cinders.

The talented Trina Hyman’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood features a sweet, very young Red Riding Hood and rich woodland scenes. Warning for littler readers: this retelling includes the wolf swallowing both Red and Grandma, and then the Woodsman cutting up the wolf to rescue them.

We also enjoy the Trina Schart Hyman illustrions in Margaret Hodges’ retellings of The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur and Saint George and the Dragon

The oil paintings in Heckedy Peg provide a richness and depth seldom found in picture books. In this fairy tale, a mother must rescue her 7 children from an evil witch.

Rechenka’s Eggs is the story of a miracle for a lonely old woman. Patricia Polacco captures the Russian flavor of this story with intricate, colorful illustrations.

The artwork in Claire Nivola’s childhood memoir, Orani, glows with a warm Mediterranean vibe. A simple description of an American girl’s impressions of the vibrant everyday life in a traditional Italian village.

In Jerry Pinkney’s wordless version of The Lion & the Mouse, the pictures themselves tell the classic fable. Other beautifully executed Pinkney books include The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Tortoise & the Hare.

Out and About is a perfect introduction to poetry, complemented by lovely drawings of the changing seasons and family life.

Another beautiful Shirley Hughes book is Lucy and Tom at the Seaside. Hughes’ style lends itself well to the detailed beach scenes depicting a family’s day at the seaside.

The Sleep Ponies is a whimsical dream story with appropriately dreamy, luminous watercolors throughout.

Paul Zelinsky’s gorgeous retelling of Rapunzel is rich and compelling.

I love the old English folk song Over in the Meadow, and have two favorite versions. I appreciate the colorful slavic style in Feodor Rojankovsky’s illustrations.

But I also love the incredibly realistic illustrations in Feirabend’s version of Over in the Meadow. These animals could leap right off the page!

This book is beautiful, every margin is full of delicate drawings of seeds and plants, and it helps kids appreciate the gorgeous bounty of a garden. We love How Groundhog’s Garden Grew!

Days on the Farm: This lovely storybook collection has six stories of farm life with delicate, detailed illustrations inspired by life on a sheep farm.

Our Lady's Wardrobe

The amazing illustrations in Our Lady’s Wardrobe fit perfectly with the heavenly theme! Check out my full review here!

Penny Dale’s sweet pictures of children mesh well with Martin Waddell’s insightful stories about the dynamics of dealing with a new sibling in Rosie’s Babie and When the Teddy Bears Came.

Little Donkey Close Your Eyes is a classic Margaret Wise Brown story paired with gorgeous bright illustrations in sunset shades.

Home Sweet Home: This beautiful poem blessing creation is paired with Ashley Wolff’s detailed illustrations.

Unique illustrations and perspectives capture these adorable Owl Babies to a feather.

David Wiesner’s realistic illustrations capture the motion and force of the Hurricane.

Graeme Base’s Animalia is a new height in alphabet books. Abundant alliteration, vibrant illustrations, and a unique meshing of fantasy and reality make this book memorable.

Box Turtle at Long Pond depicts a day in the life of a turtle with vibrant, realistic pictures.

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In The Great Redwall Feast, Brian Jacques describes a merry feast in the Abbey, rife with cheerful animals.

Jim Arnosky’s love for plants and animals can be seen in his carefully executed drawings. We enjoy his children’s picture books such Rabbits and Raindrops and Every Autumn Comes the Bear.

Maurice Pledger draws intricate, colorful books for little ones. His touch and feel books like Nature Trails are perfect for nurturing an appreciation for nature and wildlife.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of beautiful picture books! Feel free to comment with books you would like to see added to this list!

Review of “St. Conrad and the Wildfire”

St. Conrad and the Wildfire Book Cover

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.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

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.

These Themes!

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!

Gardening Books for Kids

I love, love, love gardening! I think the process of planting and watching seeds grow is renewing and nourishing for our souls. Of course I want my kids to love gardening too, so we found some lovely picture books to get them excited for planting our spring garden! Check out these beautiful picture books and get motivated to start gardening!

This list contains Amazon affiliate links.

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How Groundhog’s Garden Grew is my top pick for children’s gardening books! Gorgeous illustrations combine with great themes about hard work and sharing to make this a winner!

Miss Rumphius wants to make the world more beautiful, so she plants lupine wherever she goes. A beautifully illustrated book that encourages you to start planting wherever you are!

We Are the Gardeners by [Gaines, Joanna]

We Are the Gardeners is a sweet story from Joanna Gaines and family of Fixer Upper fame. The Gaines kids learn lessons about hard work, perseverance, and gardening.

In Whose Garden Is It? the gardener, animals, plants, insects, and weather all make a case for ownership of a beautiful garden. But Mrs. McGee ponders, whose garden is it really? I love that this book gets kids thinking about first causes! My 3 year old immediately said everyone was wrong and it was God’s garden really!

A Seed Is Sleepy (Nature Books) by [Aston, Dianna Hutts]

A Seed Is Sleepy is a simply lovely book all about seeds. From the mighty redwood to the sunflower to the mountain laurel, illustrator Sylvia Long makes each species come alive with her talented pen.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt: (Nature Book for Kids, Gardening and Vegetable Planting, Outdoor Nature Book) by [Messner, Kate]

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a lyrical, creative book that bounces back and forth to show what’s going on below the soil and above it at the same time.

Bumpety Bump! is a very simply written picture book from Pat Hutchins. There are few words, perfect for the littlest readers. We love this story about a little boy, his grandpa, and a little red hen working in the garden.

Don’t have the space or ability to have an outdoor garden? Flower Garden is the perfect book for you! A sweet little girl helps her father buy the supplies and plant a window box worth of flowers to brighten their city apartment.

Sunflower House is a fun story about children who plant a circle of sunflower seeds to create their own living house! A great idea to try at home if you have the space!

Paddington Bear in the Garden is a cute story about everyone’s favorite affable bear, Paddington, and his attempts to build a garden in the Brown’s yard. With the help of some new friends, he builds a beautiful garden and wins a prize.

The Rose in My Garden starts with a single rose growing. In this cumulative story, a new flower is added to the garden on each page. Great to help children learn to identify flowers!

Each month in Lily’s Garden, Lily describes the work she does in her garden. Each page is decorated with useful information about how to actually garden. Great for slightly older kids who want to understand how to start seeds and plant.

From Seed to Plant by [Gibbons, Gail]

For the factual-minded, Gail Gibbons clear illustrations and explanations are the perfect match. From Seed to Plant is a great introduction to seed and plant growth.

In The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle describes one tiny seed’s process of germination, growth, and flowering. Great for helping kids understand the cycle of seed growth and production.

Looking for more great books for Catholic kids? Check out my book lists!

Review of “The Island of the Two Trees”

Cover of "The Island of the Two Trees"
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The plot of The Island of Two Trees is written in the tradition of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Three siblings are “called” into a fantasy world at a pivotal moment in that world’s history. But in The Island of the Two Trees, Brian Kennelly brings a fresh twist to the classic story line by having the children called into their father’s imagination in order to save his very life.

Allegory & Symbolism

Like Lewis and George MacDonald, Brian Kennelly uses fantasy as a means of shedding light on Christianity. In The Island of the Two Trees, Kennelly uses a variety of allegories which can help children understand aspects of our Christian faith such as the battle between good and evil, devotion to Mary, and Jesus’ role in salvation history. The most obvious symbolism is in the two trees: the one a gift from the “good Counselor” which provides life-giving water to the island, the other an extension of the evil shoot Radicle which wants to destroy the island.

A Family Story

One neat thing about The Island of the Two Trees is that unlike most fantasy stories, the three children’s parents actually get chapter space in the book. Kennelly wants to convey the interconnected consequences the choices of each family member have on the others. The story bounces back between the children’s and parents’ perspective. He also wants to show that the love between parents and children is a powerful force. The children’s love for their father motivates them to face danger to save the island of his mind.

Evil: Not To Be Ignored

In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes a letter in which a devil describes the demonic strategy of urging humans to ignore the reality of demons and evil. This passage may well be the inspiration behind the premise of The Island of the Two Trees. The darkness begins to take over the father’s mind when he ignores the evil in the story he has created. When he refuses to address the dark aspects of his make-believe, they gain power, until as a last resort his children must defeat them in an alternative reality.

An Exciting Family Read-Aloud

I think this book makes a great read-aloud that many fathers would particularly appreciate reading to their children. Yes, there are some dark parts where the children battle demonic creatures. But it is not graphic at all, so not too scary for most little children. I think most 5-10 year olds would enjoy this book as a read-aloud or independent read.

Check out The Island of Two Trees on Amazon or from its Catholic publisher, Tan Books.

For more great fantasy books for Catholic kids, check out my list:

The Invisible Thread Symbolism in Three Great Authors

A fairy tale from a Christian minister. A mystery story from a famous Catholic convert and apologist. A tragic novel from a troubled revert. Three great stories with one common theme: the hand of Divine Providence.

Invisible Threads

Do you ever try to see the workings Divine Providence in your life- and fail? I certainly do. God’s wise plan for the universe can seem mysterious and opaque to our limited human intelligence. Many different symbols and analogies have been used over the centuries to help us grasp this challenging concept. But three very different stories over the course of three quarters of a century have used the same powerful imagery of an invisible thread to help us envision and contemplate God’s hand in our lives.

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The Princess and the Goblin

In 1872, George MacDonald wrote The Princess and the Goblin. A Christian minister of loosely Calvinist beliefs, MacDonald consciously wrote this fairy tale to illustrate Divine Providence in our lives. In the story, MacDonald uses several symbols for Divine Providence such as a lamp, a grandmother’s love, and pigeons. But his most powerful image is the invisible thread.

Princess Irene receives a ring with an invisible thread attached from her grandmother. Irene’s grandmother tells her that if she is ever in peril, she must place the ring under her pillow and feel the invisible thread with her fingers. By following the thread with a trusting heart, she will find her way to safety. Throughout The Princess and the Goblin, Irene trust in and follows the invisible thread when she feels afraid. By so doing she not only finds personal safety from the goblins but also rescues her friend Curdie. Obviously, the thread is an analogy for trust in God’s providence. As long as Irene trusts in God’s plan and follows it with childlike confidence, all things work for good in her life.

Father Brown

George MacDonald’s fairy tales were an inspiration to one of the most beloved writers and prodigious intellects of the 20th century: G. K. Chesterton. It’s little surprise to see Chesterton repeating MacDonald’s invisible thread motif in his Father Brown stories. In the story “The Queer Feet” in The Innocence of Father Brown, Father Brown describes his calling as being a fisher of men.

Father Brown has found a repentant thief. Explaining how the thief was caught, the good priest uses the analogy of a fisherman with an invisible thread: “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

“I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

“The queer feet,” G. K. Chesterton

Brideshead Revisited

In 1945, Evelyn Waugh published Brideshead Revisited, the seemingly dark story of a Catholic family tragedy. On the surface, this book which portrays a dysfunctional Catholic family with an overbearing mother, two rebellious children who flee from God towards homosexuality and adultery. But paradoxically, Brideshead Revisited is in essence an apologia for the Catholic faith.

In the second half of the story, which Waugh titled “A Twitch Upon the Thread,” the various members of the Flyte family are called back to their childhood faith by circuitous paths. In the novel, Waugh doffs his hat to Chesterton’s influence by using the image of the thread to describe the Flyte children’s reversion to Catholicism. Cordelia even repeats the quote about the invisible thread from The Innocence of Father Brown at one point in the novel.

Life Lessons from Literature

In all three of these books, the imagery of Divine Providence as an invisible thread is used as a tangible, familiar image to describe the hand of God protecting and guiding all back to Him. When the Princess is in mortal danger, when the thief flees with his plunder, when the Flytes have rebelled in every imaginable way, we wonder how this can possibly be part of God’s plan.

Similarly, when we experience suffering, loss, misfortune in our lives, our faith in God’s good plan can waver. The imagery of the invisible thread can steady us in troubled times and help us trust in God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” We can believe that, like the Princess and the Thief and the Flytes, we too will find our way to safety and peace one day.

Needless to say, these are three of my favorite stories, all of which I highly recommend!