Review of “Princess Academy”

princess academy book by Shannon Hale

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is an exciting, character-forming book about friendships, overcoming hardships, and true happiness. A Newberry Honor book in 2006, this popular fantasy series aimed at tween and teen girls seemed too good to be true. But Princess Academy completely surprised me-in a good way!

This review may contain Amazon affiliate links.

A Fantasy World

Fourteen year old Miri lives on Mount Eskel, the linder stone quarry of Danland. Utterly uneducated, her life consists of struggling alongside her poverty-stricken family for basic survival. But one day life on Mount Eskel changes forever. The next Princess of Danland will be selected from among the 20 girls on Mount Eskel. A Princess Academy opens to provide them with education and ideas that change their mindsets and way of life forever.

The Power of Education

So obviously, the power of education, especially reading books, is a huge theme in Princess Academy. Miri learns something from each course she takes: etiquette, poise, history, diplomacy, economics, and, of course, reading. Over the course of the book, Hale cleverly shows how Miri needs the lessons she learned at the Academy to conquer various challenges. Notably, Miri learns from her economic lessons that her town on Mount Eskel is being systematically underpaid for their stone by the traders. Then she uses her diplomacy lessons to advocate for her town with the traders to come to a better arrangement.

Friendship & Forgiveness

The lessons in diplomacy also help Miri work past the initial ostracism she experiences from her fellow classmates. With the help of a little diplomacy, and thanks to her cheerfulness and resourcefulness, she begins to forge real friendships. There’s a great theme running through the book about forgiving wrongs, not harboring anger, and second chances.

Virtues

Another great theme in Princess Academy is that being virtuous is more important than money, power, or winning. The other girls learn to admire and accept Miri due to her positive character traits: her kindness, cheerfulness, helpfulness, and courage. When Miri focuses on winning the title of Academy Princess, she feels restless and unsure. When she focuses on her own self-improvement and helping her friends, she finds peace and clarity.

A True Twist in the Tale

Just from the title, Princess Academy, you think you know how this book is going to end. Surely Miri will end up graduating top of the academy and being chosen by the Prince and living happily ever after. But in a masterful twist that really elevates this book to classic status, author Hale has Miri instead choose to help all her friends graduate, help her best friend be chosen as the Princess, and find happiness in improving life for her family and tiny community.

A Great Fantasy Series for Young Girls

Princess Academy and its two sequels, Palace of Stone and The Forgotten Sisters, are great book options for girls who love fantasy. The messages about the importance of family, friendships, and virtue-growth are powerfully conveyed by the story itself. The writing is solid, and the song snippets “from” Mount Eskel which begin each chapter add some needed depth.

Looking for more fantasy titles? More books for girls? Check out my other lists:

Review of “North American Martyrs”

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book by Bonnie Way and Katherine Babcock

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book is a fantastic resource for Catholic families. Written by Bonnie Way, the Koala Mom, this is a creative and well-researched activity book. It provides both biographical information on eight Catholic men who were martyred for their faith in seventeenth century North America and fun activities.

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links.

Focus on Courage and Charity

The eight North American martyrs are inspiring men who vividly demonstrated both the great commandments in their curtailed lives. Each martyr possessed such a burning love for God that they risked their lives to spread the Gospel to the Native Americans and First Nation people of Canada and the United States. Often tortured and persecuted, they willingly returned to their mission fields and the American people they loved until their deaths. In North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book, the selfless life of each martyr is described briefly but with sufficient detail to inspire twenty first century children with a admiration for what these men endured for their faith.

A Great Unit Study Resource

In addition to the stories of these martyr’s lives, North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book contains plenty of mazes, crosswords, word finds, decoding, and writing prompts to emphasize the important information. The book is divided into each sections, each with a biography and activities, making it a perfect unit study or saint a week book for the summer months. I also think this book would be great to keep an 8-12 year old occupied on a long road trip or vacation.

A Catholic Activity Book

The neatest thing about this book is its originality: a specific Catholic martyr themed activity book? Who’d have thought! At $15.00 for a 130 page activity book, it’s even very reasonably priced! Would I change anything? I might add color photos and more images in general, but overall this is a well-done and worthwhile activity book for the 8-12 year old crowd.

I received a free copy of North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book from thekoalamom.com in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more books for middle grade kids? Check out my lists for Boys and Girls!

North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book by Bonnie Way and Katherine Babcock

50 Classic Books that Middle Grade Girls Love

What type of books should middle grade girls read? Books with admirable, imitable female characters. Books with uplifting themes about growing up and growing in character. Books about friendships and family relationships. Classic chapter books for the 8-12 year old crowd.

The books on this list are time-tested classics, beloved by middle grade girls over the decades. They’re all completely clean, don’t focus on romance, and have great themes!

This list is arranged by age, with the easier books coming first.

This list contains Amazon affiliate links.

The Fairchild Family books are a delightful glimpse into the life of an early American family. Girls will love this light-hearted series about a family with four sisters. In order, the books are: Happy Little Family, Up And Down The River, Schoolhouse in the Woods, and Schoolroom in the Parlor.

The first four Betsy-Tacy Books are combined into one collection here, perfect for young girls encountering this charming trio for the first time. Three girls with very different personalities, families, and even hair colors become best friends in this beloved series from Maud Hart Lovelace.

The Courage of Sarah Noble has a great theme about discovering the true nature of courage: freedom from fear, or bravery in the face of fear?

Mystery lovers will enjoy the adventures of the Hollister family, which begins with The Happy Hollisters. Check out my full review of the series here!

I have yet to meet an 8-10 year old girl who didn’t love The Ordinary Princess. Her older sisters have all the typical princess qualities of beauty and grace and talent, but Amy is simply ordinary. What will life look like for an ordinary princess?

Thoughtful 8 year old Lisa tells about life in a tiny Swedish village. The Children of Noisy Village is a great early chapter book due to its short 2-4 page chapters. Each chapter tells an anecdote that happened in or around Noisy Village.

Love Noisy Village? Read more adventures of Lisa, Britta, Anna, and the brothers in Happy Times in Noisy Village. Humorous yet great exposure to Swedish culture and traditions.

The Secret Valley is a pioneer story set during the Gold Rush years. A sister and brother travel west with their parents searching for gold, but learn that true happiness is not found in a gold nugget.

The Boxcar Children are easy mysteries about a harmonious set of siblings. Girls will easily identify with responsible, confident Jessie or shy, sweet Violet. Each sibling’s skills help solve the mysteries.

In A Lion to Guard Us, big sister Amanda courageously sets off with her little brother and sister to follow their father across the ocean to Jamestown. She’ll have to have both courage and faith to succeed. This is a classic historical fiction easy enough for younger readers.

Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy series begins with “B” Is for Betsy. The Betsy books follow Betsy through her school years starting with 1st grade. In this book, Betsy learns that going to school can actually be fun and makes new friends. Betsy and Billy follows Betsy into 2nd grade, and Back to School with Betsy covers 3rd grade.

Twenty and Ten is a wonderful World War II historical fiction novel about a group of Catholic schoolchildren who successfully hide a group of Jewish children from the Nazis. The 1st person narration by a schoolgirl gives a truly authentic feel to this story.

Wild and charming, sassy and sweet, who can resist Pippi? The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking is a collection of three Pippi books, Swedish classics by Astrid Lindgren. Note that Pippi gets into a decent amount of mischief and there is some level of outsmarting adults that occurs.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loves children, and children love Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s wisdom and spirit.

First Farm in the Valley is the first in Anne Pellowski’s wonderful First Farm in the Valley Series. Each book describes the life and adventures of a family in the valley. Based on the memories of the author.

Family From One End Street is a collection of short stories about the seven siblings in a large, very poor London family. Set in the early 20th century, the poor but happy Ruggles family has various escapades as they scrape a living.

In these stories which span generations, a bored young girl finds treasures like a special quilt in her Grandma’s attic. Each random object has a story attached. Grandma’s Attic Treasury are sweet stories of a simpler time.

For girls who enjoy older classics, the Five Little Peppers are a good fit. Another set of stories about a large family and their adventures living on a shoestring budget.

Fern’s compassion for Wilbur saves his life. Charlotte’s Web is a true children’s classic.

My family loves all the Hilda Van Stockum books, but Five for Victory, and its sequels Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables, are particularly special. Girls will love these funny, heartfelt stories about a Catholic military family during World War II and the years following.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a lovely classic girls’ book about bearing hardships with fortitude and courage.

A shy girl must reach deep in herself to find the bravery to help save her country in Toliver’s Secret. American Revolutionary War historical fiction.

E. Nesbit is a beloved British author of children’s fantasy, and The Enchanted Castle is one of her more accessible books for modern day children. Girls love the mysterious castle and princess in this book.

Hitty, or Methibale, is a doll from the 1800s. She recounts her memoirs of life over the course of a different century in Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.

In this very well-known children’s classic, Heidi is raised by her grandfather, goes to school, and embarks on

Girls love the tiny, imaginative world of Mary Norton’s The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers. These books record the adventures of a group of miniature people who live a hidden life in the houses of the big humans.

Narrated by a girl, The Toothpaste Millionaire is the story of two middle schoolers who come up with a brilliant business idea. A celebration of entrepreneurship and friendship.

The Little House books are such classics they don’t need a description! These gentle stories are perfect for middle grade girls. The first four books in the series are best for this age range.

The All-of-a-Kind Family books are another wonderful series for middle grade girls. These stories are about a joyful Jewish family with five girls living in New York city in the early 1900’s. Great exposure to Jewish traditions and fun stories.

Lois Lenski does an amazing job bringing alive the realities of the tough, even brutal life of a poor farm family in the early 1900’s. Yet Strawberry Girl also is a celebration of simple joys and the beauty of peace.

I trace my love of gardening back to reading The Secret Garden as a child. Cranky Mary’s transformation from a fretful, selfish little person to a good friend and young woman can be traced to the “magic” of caring for a garden.

The Princess and the Goblin by master writer George MacDonald is on my must-read list of children’s classics. This beautiful book is filled with Christian symbolism and allegory. And it’s an engaging story about a Princess, a Miner Boy, and some Goblins.

Caddie Woodlawn is a growing-up story about a tomboyish young girl in early America. From uproarious adventures with her brothers to getting a voice in deciding her family’s future, Caddie grapples with growing up and learning what being a young lady truly means.

The Complete Chronicles of Narnia are a must in any middle grade child’s book collection! These are stories to read and re-read.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are windows into life in Hungary before and during World War I. Young Jansci and his family’s life is upended by the arrival of his wild cousin Kate, but their patience and love work a miracle. In the second book, Jansci must grow up quickly as his father leaves for the war.

Olivia and the Little Way is a wonderful introduction to the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux for middle grade girls.

Misty of Chincoteague is the story of a sister and brother and their love for a special horse. Great themes about hard work, perseverance, and unselfish love.

The Kellyhorns is like an older, cleaner version of The Parent Trap. Long-estranged twins find each other and conspire to unite their beloved aunt and father.

The Swallows and Amazons series is a quintessential middle grade classic: well-written, exciting adventures, and a great assortment of relatable characters for both girls and boys.

Calico Bush by Rachel Field is a serious look at the reality of life for indentured servants and the hardships the early American settlers experienced. But it’s also a celebration of a young girl’s loyalty and courage and will to survive.

In Number the Stars, young Annemarie’s family risks their lives to save her Jewish friend from the Nazis. Focuses on the heroism of the Danish resistance during World War II.

In Turn Homeward, Hannalee, brave 12 year old Hannalee embarks on a long journey to escape the Northern factory she is forced to work at and return home to Georgia.

The Saturdays is the first of the Melendy Quartet books from the great storyteller Elizabeth Enright. Four creative children with a small allowance pool resources so each can have a special adventure once a month. Great stories about harmonious sibling relationships, creativity, and adopting an older child. The Melendy story continues with The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two.

In The Crystal Snowstorm, orphaned Catherine travels to the tiny Catholic kingdom of Letzenstein to meet her distant relatives. Soon she is caught up in intrigue and a battle for the throne. A wonderful classic series with memorable Catholic characters that continues in Following the Phoenix, Angel and Dragon, and The Rose and Crown.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a fun, quirky adventure series about exceptional children who are sent on a mission to save the world from a pyschopath bent on universal mind control. Read my full review here!

Cheerful Pollyanna is a sunbeam to her grumpy old aunt. But when tragedy strikes and leaves her a cripple, can Pollyanna still be cheerful?

Historical fiction about a courageous girl who must step up to defend her family when her father is away. Madeleine Takes Command will resonate with middle grade girls.

Living alone on a desolate island with only animals for companions, Karana must find courage to fight for survival. Island of the Blue Dolphins is a sometimes gritty but inspiring story.

The Light Princess is a short but thought-provoking fairy tale by George MacDonald. Full of puns but also great themes about the true meaning of love.

Little Women is another classic that needs no introduction. This story of the love between four very different sisters has charmed generations.

Eight Cousins is another great Lousia May Alcott book for middle grade girls. Rose learns to see beyond surface appearances to which of her many cousins are the most worthy.

Jack and Jill was actually my favorite Alcott book as a child. A sledding accident cripples two children and forever changes a small town. A wonderful look at the power of friendship and compassion.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile is an exciting story of spies, counter-spies, and palace plots set in ancient Egypt. It’s also a story of a girl learning to choose loyalty and self-sacrifice over selfishness. This book does have a romance and is better for older middle grades.

princess academy book by Shannon Hale

Princess Academy is one of those classic girl stories about friendship and coming of age. Read my in-depth review here!

The Sherwood Ring has a satsifyingly twisty plot with time travel, a gentle love story, and fascinating American revolution details all twined masterfully together.

An Old-Fashioned Girl offers a much-needed theme about staying true to one’s values and beliefs despite peer pressure.

Drovers Road is the first of one of my favorite coming of age series about Gay, a spirited young girl growing up in New Zealand. Gay lives in a rougher, more exotic world of horses, sheep-herding, and hunting. The subsequent two books follow Gay through college and beyond.

Review of “The First Christmas”

Advent is almost here, and I’m preparing by getting our 2019 Christmas books wrapped and organized for our book-a-day Christmas countdown! This year, one of the new books we’ll be unwrapping is Thomas William’s recently published book The First Christmas. Williams’ charming poem is accompanied by vibrant, unique illustrations by Frank Fraser. Together, poem and illustrations make this a perfect addition to any Catholic family’s Christmas collection!

Affiliate Links Included.

Illustrations that tell a story

My children were captivated by the illustrator’s fascinating juxtaposition of different styles to emphasize the story. On the one hand, there are the exaggerated, almost cartoonlike, depictions of the bored townsfolk and wealthy men who don’t notice, or don’t care, that the Messiah is born. On the other, there are the serenely beautiful and luminous pictures of the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, kings, and little children who recognize their Savior. This contrast in artistic style really forces the reader to reflect on Jesus being born into a world which largely didn’t recognize Him.

Biblical References

The Theology major in me loved the Biblical references interwoven into the poem. Williams explains how the coming of the Messiah is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah and Hosea. There are also New Testament quotes and paraphrasing from Luke.

Little Children Leading the Way

Throughout the book, if you look closely you’ll notice that it is the children who recognize and welcome Jesus most readily. Young readers will love imagining themselves as the girl who cheerfully waved to Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem, or the shepherd boy who smiles at the angel as the older shepherds stare in fear and awe. The First Christmas really does a stellar job trying to draw young readers into the story of Jesus’ coming.

A Wonderful Explanation of the True Meaning of Christmas

Overall, this is a beautiful book that does a noteworthy job of explaining the true meaning of Christmas. With its lyrical verses, this poem is a great alternative Christmas poem to replace or complement the secular poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. With its focus on the true Christmas story, this picture book is really a great gift or addition to any Christmas collection.

Want to get a glimpse inside the book? Check out this great preview of The First Christmas from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press!

Looking for more picture books about Advent and Christmas? Check out my Christmas book list!

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

Review of “When You Were Baptized”

As Catholic parents, we make sure our children are well-prepared for their First Holy Communion, Penance, and Confirmation. We discuss vocations and catechize about Holy Orders and Matrimony. But since Baptism is usually received at such a young age, it can be easy to overlook explaining the its importance to young children. If you’re looking for a beautiful, informative picture book to help your young children understand more about the symbolism, character, and rite of Baptism, check out When You Were Baptized, a new book from Liturgy Training Publications.

Catholic Baptism Baby Child
Affailate Links Included. See Footer for Full Disclosure.

Written directly to Catholic Children

My little children were immediately captivated by this beautifully illustrated picture book which speaks directly to the child. Written in the second person, When You Were Baptized methodically moves through the rite of Baptism, highlighting each symbol and action. Children learn what each oil symbolizes, why the priest blesses the holy water, what the white garment signifies, and more.

Simple Explanations for the Littlest Listeners

Note that this picture book does not event attempt to touch on the depths of symbolism behind each part of a Baptism. In a message for parents at the conclusion of the book, the author explains that very young children (under age 6) are not yet old enough for moral considerations. Therefore, this book is focused on the more natural symbolism involved in Baptism versus the moral and Biblical implications.

It’s apparent that the author’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd background influenced the scope of this book. In the Catechesis, the first years are focused on cultivating wonder and love for God. This book with its simple explanations and overarching tone of welcoming the child into God’s family is true to the Catechesis vision.

A Great Baptismal Gift

This lovely picture book would be a wonderful gift for a godparent to give at a Baptism, or even to commemorate the Baptismal day of an older child. It also makes a wonderful addition to any Catholic family’s picture book library. See further information here on the Publisher’s website.

For more great books about Catholicism, the saints, sacraments, and more, check out this book list!

I received a copy of When You Were Baptized from Liturgy Training Publications in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

20 Great Books for Children Who Love Talking Animals

Affiliate Links Included

This list is for every child and teen who has loved an animal so much they were sure that they could secretly talk.

In children’s literature, there are classics about animal which talk, and classics about animals which don’t talk. To accompany my list of 25 Great Books for Children who love Animals, here are my favorite books about talking animals! If you have an 8-14 year old animal lover, they will love these books!

Black Beauty is a classic, both inspiring and heartbreaking in turns. This story of a gentle horse who just wants friendship and peace is beloved by both children and adults. However, it is very sad at times so use discretion for highly sensitive young readers. 

Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I are two fantastic and funny tales of American Patriots and the founding of America as recounted by their loyal pets, a mouse and horse respectively. 

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is the story of the unlikely friendship that grows between a pig, a spider, and a girl: a friendship that is truly life-saving for one of the three.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is one of the best loved classics about talking animals. The happy, simple world of Badger, Mole, and Rat has captured the imagination of more than one generation. This book is a staple in any collection of children’s books. 

In Jenny and the Cat Club, the reader meets Jenny, a shy young cat with a red scarf. In this volume of Jenny adventures, Jenny learns to make friends, be brave, and to share. Further adventures of Jenny can be found in The School for Cats and Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure. The Jenny books make great read alouds for younger children too! 

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is notable on several levels. First, it’s a timeless story of friendship between a cat, mouse, cricket, and boy. Second, it’s a great introduction to the variety of cultures in New York City, notably Italian and Chinese. Third, it’s illustrated by Garth Williams, of Little House fame. Worth reading on all three counts. 

The Song of the Winns: The Secret of the Ginger Mice by Frances Watts is a fun little known talking animal story about mice triplets. When one of the triplets is kidnapped, his siblings set out to find him. Their journey is filled with mystery, adventure, and surprises. 

The Redwall books by Brian Jacques are always favorites with Catholic children, even the most reluctant readers. These books have a wonderfully medieval feel with their high feasts, epic battles, and quests. There are over 22 Redwall Books, all enjoyable, though the first six are generally considered the best.

In some ways reminiscent of Redwall, the The Green Ember series nevertheless manages to find its own voice. This series follows the adventures, battles, and quests of a rabbit clan. Great themes about growing up, bravery, loyalty, and more. 

All of the Narnia books include talking animals, but The Horse and His Boy stands out as having a truly memorable talking animal leading character. Bree, the kidnapped horse who longs to get home to Narnia, goes on a journey of self-knowledge and character growth just as much as his rider, Shasta. This is my very favorite of the Narnia books.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is the first of the Ralph S. Mouse books. Young Ralph is a mouse who longs for speed and adventure. Life in a hotel is boring at best until a sympathetic boy shows up.

Freddy the Detective by Walter Brooks is one of the classic Freddy the Pig series. These charming older books follow Freddy, a kind-hearted pig, on a series of ventures from starting a detective agency to becoming a lawyer. Other titles in the series include Freddy the Politician,

In The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle struggles to deal with his stuffy English patients. His parrot, Polynesia, teaches him animal language and he becomes a veterinarian instead.  

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has several talking animal characters, such as the unforgettable white hare on his way to have tea with the queen. This is a classic that every child should read at some point in their life. 

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is actually a collection of stories about the jungle. Many feature the classic cast of movie characters such as Baloo, Mowgli, and Shere Khan. These stories are more challenging than many books on this list, but offer great exposure to India. 

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner are both included in this beautiful color version of the classic Pooh stories. These hilarious stories are actually better enjoyed by an independent reader than a younger child! 

Watership Down by Richard Adams is a talking animal classic about a small band of rabbits’ struggle for survival. Warning for parents of younger and sensitive children that a few lovable main characters do die in this story.

Thornton Burgess is well known for his animal stories about clever Peter Cottontail, sneaky Reddy Fox, and the rest of Mother West Wind’s children. You can start reading about their escapades in Old Mother West Wind, then continue with the whole series. These short books are great for encouraging younger readers to finish a whole book!