“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!

happy ethnic children lying on bed

Classic Chapter Books that are Funny!

My 9 year old was laughing so hard the other night over a book that he woke up his youngest sister. He just loves a laugh out loud funny book, and I bet he isn’t the only one! Depending on who you ask, laughter keeps us sane, is good medicine, and makes life worth living.

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery

It’s Robert Frost who said laughter keeps us sane by the way. And Byron says it’s cheap medicine.

Anyway, here’s a list of the funniest chapter books for 8-12 year old middle grade readers.

Homer Price captures bank robbers- with a little help from his pet skunk Aroma. He watches the donut shop for his uncle- and ends up making thousands of donuts. Robert McCloskey’s wry illustrations help make this comic classic memorable. Our world is so much more complicated, but kids still laugh about Homer Price’s small-town escapades.

Speaking of McCloskey, he also illustrated Henry Reed, Inc.. Diplomat’s kid Henry Reed speaks several languages and has traveled the world, but knows very little about America. He returns to spend the summer in suburbia at Grover’s Corner and mayhem ensues. We love all the other books in the series: Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service, Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry Reed’s Big Show, and Henry Reed’s Think Tank.

Tom Sawyer: American legend. Kids would have to read this book anyway for cultural literacy, but it’s so funny they read it voluntarily. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer still have charm.

Life is an adventure on McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm where beanstalks grow sky high overnight. Sid Fleischman tells original American tall tales about a large family on a miraculously productive farm.

Good Old Archibald is a vintage schoolboy story of accepting differences and forging friendships through sports and pranks. Reprinted and available from Bethlehem Books.

My kids loved and laughed at Owls in the Family from about age 3 onwards. It’s got that universal appeal that makes all ages laugh out loud. Farley Mowat humorously recounts his childhood complete with a menagerie of pets including two Great Horned Owls that thought they were human.

In The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, you get a three books in one volume! This illustrated edition of the beloved Pippi stories brings the irrepressible red-head to life for today’s kids.

Speaking of today’s kids, Adventures with Waffles is a modern day Scandinavian author’s Pippi-inspired comedy story. You can read my in-depth review here: “Adventures with Waffles” Review.

Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series follows sibling groups on unlikely magical escapades usually with a twist. Like in Half Magic the children find a magic charm that gives them get exactly half of whatever they wish. Of course general hilarity ensues and they learn the hard way to be careful what they wish for!

The “magic” in Eager’s books is in the the Nesbit tradition: fairy-tale like magic that just happens to everyday people. The children are not trying to be witches or wizards. The magic happens through a toad that grants wishes in one book, a magic penny in another.

The Mad Scientists’ Club is vintage boys’ fiction with lots of science, pranks, and brainy kids saving the day. Overall I recommend these books for older middle grade readers with a few reservations. Things I don’t like: outsmarting domineering adults such as the Mad Scientists’ archenemy the mayor of the town is a common part of this collection of stories. There’s also some “fibbing” and disobedience to parents without real consequences.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of positive themes about loyalty, friendship, problem-solving, and good clean fun. It’s quite funny and will inspire kids to explore and delve deep into STEM. This review from First Things captures the positives and negatives of the series well.

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:

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.

“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.

Catholic Board Books for Catholic Toddlers

There’s been an explosion of board books written just for Catholic toddlers in the last few years. From mini Catechisms to Mass books, there’s a board book for that now!

This is so exciting to see! How wonderful to be able to share the treasures of our faith with the littlest Catholics in an age appropriate (and rip-proof) way!

If you’re a godmother looking for a Baptismal gift, or a godparent looking for a Christmas present, or a mom looking for a stocking stuffer, these books will be perfect!

Bible Stories & Verses

Wow! These gorgeous board books from St. Augustine Academy Press are eye-catchers. The lithographs are based on Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s 1860 Bible in Pictures. The idea here is that even if the child is too young to listen to the full text of a Bible story, they can learn the gist of it from these detailed pictures.

Buy it directly from the publisher: St. Augustine Academy Press

Read your child some of the simplest and most comforting Scripture verses in The Word of the Lord. These are great first memory verses!

Buy it through my Amazon Affiliate link: The Word of the Lord: A Child’s First Scripture Verses

Or buy it through my Good News Book Shop link: The Word of the Lord

Catholic Catechism Board Books

Katie Warner brings you the shortest and sweetest Catechism of all. Simple one line affirmations encourage the littlest toddlers to learn basic truths such as “God made you and rejoices in you.”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Kiddie Cat: A Child’s First Catechism Lesson

Or buy it through Good New Book Shop: Kiddie Cat

Looking for a little more depth but still a simple presentation? Check out the Teeny Tiny Theology series. These four books provide an introduction to Christology (the study of Jesus Christ and his role in salvation) the Trinity and more!

Buy them through my Amazon affiliate links: Teeny Tiny Theology: Christology

Teeny Tiny Theology: The Trinity

Teeny Tiny Theology: Salvation History

Teeny Tiny Theology: Sacred Scripture

Cute illustrations in these Little Books for Catholic Kids. Books on the Corporal Works of Mercy, Spiritual Works of Mercy, Prayer, Angels, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Aquinas Kids Little Books for Catholic Kids Box Set

Christmas Board Books

I’ve always loved reading this rhythmic, soothing board book to my babies at Christmas time. Captures the spirit of preparing and waiting patiently (or impatiently) for Christmas very well.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Who is Coming to Our House?

Christmas in the Manger is a simple explanation of Christmas symbols for the littlest children.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Christmas in the Manger

The Story of Christmas is a slightly longer board book that explains the true meaning of Christmas in a way that helps toddlers understand it’s not just all about the presents!

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Story of Christmas

Saints Board Books

This isn’t just a book of saint stories. It’s a book of advice from the saints! Read your child words of wisdom from some of the greatest saints such as St. Padre Pio’s “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry!”

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints

Or buy it through Good News Book Shop: Cloud of Witnesses

In this board book, Catholic toddlers become familiar with the apparitions of Fatima and Guadalupe, Our Lord’s appearances to St. Faustina, and the Annunciation.

Buy it through the publisher: Holy Heroes

The Mass

Sturdy and durable, this board book is the best Mass book for toddlers I’ve found. Written by a Catholic Mom, it includes I spy, match the vestments, lift the flaps at the end of each part of the Liturgy of the Word, and more.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: My First Interactive Mass Book

Looking for something a little more advanced? Check out my list Good Catholic Books for Catholic Preschoolers and Kindergartners