Review of “Swallows and Amazons” Series

I consider Swallows and Amazons and its sequels to be one of the greatest series ever written for children. In these 12 books, author Arthur Ransome presents tales of stirring adventure and ingenious discoveries, all written in the most beautiful yet accessible English prose. Swallows and AmazonsSwallowdale, and the rest of the series chronicle the holiday adventures of the four Walker children and their friends. Not fast-paced in the modern sense of violence and high drama, these books nevertheless are chock full of age-appropriate adventures involving (for a small sampling) exploring deserted islands, sailing, gold mining, boat races, and wilderness survival. Ransome is a master writer, and these books are pure joy to read, even as an adult. But the are intended for children, and impart many great lessons quite subtly.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

Every book revolves around the children’s adventures in the great outdoors. Sometimes sailing through the English lake country, sometimes trekking across the moors, sometimes exploring the China Sea, each book offers an example of how exciting and fascinating the outdoors can be. The children are always active, never lazy, because there is always something to explore or build. They show that camping, boating, and roughing it can be fun and invigorating. There is never a bored moment on a Walker holiday.

CURIOSITY AND INGENUITY

Several of the children have an ardent curiosity about how things work. They model ingenuity and creativity as they research, experiment, and learn as they go. In one book alone, Pigeon Post, they discover how to use carrier pigeons, dig a well, make charcoal out of peat, prospect and pan for metals, build a blast furnace, and do chemical assays for gold. In other books, they gain extensive knowledge about sailing boats both small and large, navigation, astronomy, ornithology, a variety of codes, and survival skills. Nearly everything they learn is on their own initiative during holidays. These books definitely inspire kids to be inquisitive and innovative!

FRIENDSHIPS

Friendship is a major theme in the Swallows and Amazons series. Parents will appreciate how broad and inclusive the friendships in these books are. Siblings of various ages work and play harmoniously together. The Walker and Blackett children range in age from six to twelve in the first books, and all get along wonderfully most of the time. There is no pettiness, exclusion, or cliquishness. No silly immature romances spoil the simple camaraderie these children share. Diverse in interests and personalities, they are united in their friendship by a shared love for outdoor exploration and adventure.

POSITIVE PARENT FIGURES

Another wonderful theme in these books is their positive portrayal of parents. The Walker children adore their mother, who is at once properly caring and concerned yet willing to give them the space and freedom to foster their independence and creativity. The Walker father is absent in the first few books for work, but always in conctact via letter and telegram and clearly respected and admired by the children. Later in the series, Captain Walker returns and makes sure to prioritize taking his children on sailing adventures. The Blackett girls are being raised by their widowed mother, who, like Mrs. Walker, combines a motherly spirit with respect for her children’s individuality and independence. She gets extra points for being a patient and understanding mother to Nancy, the headstrong child in the series. The parents of the third sibling set, Dick and Dot, are archaeologists who feature little in the series, but their relationship still seems connected and loving. So many modern books embrace the theme of misunderstood child and flawed parent, it’s refreshing to read a story where parent-child relationships are natural and loving.

READING ORDER

For reading order, it’s best to start with Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, and Winter Holiday in that order, then read the rest as you can find them. Some of the books are hard to find or out of print, but these stories are really worth buying and adding to your family library. One of the best things about this series is the entire 12 books are appropriate for all ages. That makes this a wonderful series to read aloud as a family or listen to as an audio book in the car. Of course, they are also enjoyed read solo by a competent reader; around ten years old is usually perfect. I hope you find and enjoy these marvelous children’s classics!

 

Good Easy Readers for Catholic Kids

Have an emergent reader in the family? By definition, the text in an easy reader has to be very simple, but that’s no reason for the illustrations to be poor quality! Here are some great options of both readers from programs and fun, simple books which combine short and sweet stories with good quality illustrations. We use a combination of both types of books to provide plenty of practice for our young readers.

Note that these books are intended for emergent readers; if you have a child who is already reading chapter books fluently, check out my list Good Books for Catholic 8 to 9 year olds .

Books from Reading Programs


The All About Reading beginner readers are favorites at our house. There are several books in the series such as Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat. These are quality hardcover books which each include a whole collection of funny stories. Note that some older, used editions may be in black and white, so opt for a newer version if you want a color edition.

 

 

 


Seton Press has reprinted the Faith and Freedom Readers, a series of beautiful readers beginning with This is Our Family. These charmingly illustrated stories are sight-word style reading, which I find helpful to include along with the phonics-based books we typically use. Cheapest place to buy is from Seton directly: This is Our Family.

 

 

 


Speaking of sight words, remember Dick and Jane? Here is a great set of four beautiful hard-cover reprints of the classic Dick and Jane stories. These short, simple stories quickly inspire confidence in young readers.

 

 

 


The Little Angel Readers are part of a phonics based program available at Stone Tablet Press, but they can be used independently of the program for simple practice. They feature short, easy stories ranging from retellings of folk and fairy tales to Catholic-themed stories.

 

 

 

For Fun

We love The Princess Twins Series with their sweet illustrations, simple stories, and marvelous messages. Each story highlights a different virtue which Princesses Emma and Abby learn to model.

 

 

 

 

 


We all laugh at the adventures and misadventures of Charlie the Ranch Dog in these easy readers inspired by the Ree Drummond books.

 

 

 

 

 


Arnold Lobel’s popular Frog and Toad books make great easy readers. We also enjoy his other stories such as Small Pig and Owl at Home.

 

 

 

 

 

I dislike the illustrations in many of the Dr. Seuss beginner books, but others like these two by Mike McClintock are actually quite charming: Stop that Ball! and A Fly Went by .

 

 

 

 

 


Biscuit. Okay, yes, it is ironic that the title character’s name is not actually an easy word to read. But otherwise, these adorable books are very, very basic on the vocabulary with big font and only a sentence or two a page. We love the sweet illustrations in these stories.

 

 

 

Cynthia Rylant has written several great series of easy readers. Our favorites are the Mr. Putter & Tabby stories. Not only do these books offer lessons about friendship and kindness, they show children that elderly people can be funny, happy, sad, or lonely too. You will love kind-hearted Mr. Putter and his fine cat Tabby, and smile at his eccentric neighbor Mrs. Teaberry and her crazy dog Zeke.

 

 


We also find Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton stories funny and enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

For Information


Have a facts-oriented child? Consider the DK Eyewitness Readers. They feature high-quality photos and four different levels of difficulty to choose from, and are available on a multitude of subjects. Most libraries have lots of these!

Review of the “Anne of Green Gables” Series

Reading at least Anne of Green Gables, if not the entire Anne series, is basically a rite of passage for young girls in America and Canada. L. M. Montgomery’s classic series is so beautifully written and her vivid characters, particularly Anne herself, are so memorable, these books deserve to be read and re-read over the years. There is a certain sense of the transcendent and sacramental in the Anne books which is wonderful to imbue in a girl’s imagination. So the question for a Catholic parent is not “if” to give your daughter a copy of the Anne books but “when” is the most appropriate age. Too early and they may be cast away unappreciated. Too late and the first at least may be discarded as too childish. My aim in this review is to introduce you very briefly to each of the eight books about Anne and explain the most appropriate age for each to be read by your daughter.

In Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery’s most famous work, the reader is introduced to Anne with an E, the irrepressible red-headed orphan whose pluck and cheerfulness earn her the love of an entire village. This first book begins with Anne coming to Green Gables at age 11, and follows her up until about age 16. There are so many wonderful themes in this book about both self-improvement and self-acceptance, loyalty and forgiveness, hard work and true happiness. Add to this gentle humor and Montgomery’s beautiful prose, and you have one of my very favorite books. Of course every girl will be different, but I think around age 12 is the perfect age for first encountering Anne.

Anne of Avonlea recounts Anne’s adventures from ages 16-18. This book is a touching coming of age story as Anne sacrifices some of her own dreams to support her family at Green Gables. I really appreciated how Montgomery portrayed Anne as mostly disinterested in boys and dutifully accepting Marilla’s opinion that 16-18 is too young for courting. This second volume of the Anne series is also appropriate for 12 and olders.

In Anne of the Island, Anne heads off to Redmond College with several of her friends from Avonlea. I found this one to be among the most amusing of the series, humorously recounting Anne’s college escapades, early attempts at getting stories published, and horrifically memorable marriage proposals. I consider the story line about college life more appropriate for 14 and up, but there is no material that would be objectionable for a 12 year old to read.

Anne of Windy Poplars  is a collection of the letters Anne wrote to Gilbert during the three years of their engagement and separation while he attended medical school and she worked as a Principal at Summerside High School. This book is particularly delightful since Anne herself narrates her experiences far from Avonlea. With careful propriety, Montgomery “omits” those paragraphs where Anne’s pen is not too scratchy for her to write of her love for Gilbert, so these letters read as very PG, though I would personally save them for 14 and older again since I think they will be more appreciated at that age.

Starting with the fifth book, Anne’s House of Dreams, and continuing with Anne of Ingleside, the Anne books take a decided turn towards more adult conflicts and themes. While they are still tame compared to the sordidness spewed forth in many modern novels, these books simply present a realistic picture of adult life with believable concerns, cares and crosses. Anne and Gilbert suffer through the death of their first child. Anne helps a friend stay true to her difficult husband despite loving another man. The Blythes navigate their first disagreements. Anne even begins to doubt that Gilbert still loves her and worries about an old flame of his who is attempting to ensnare him. Stories along these lines were meant for a more mature audience, and I would definitely not recommend them before age 16.

In Rainbow Valley, Montgomery returns to her style in the very first Anne book, recounting the adventures of the six Blythe children and their young neighbors, the four Merediths. These stories are innocent and fun, all about helping the Merediths find the perfect stepmother and taking care of a young runaway girl named Mary Vance. Girls 12 and older will enjoy them.

Rilla of Ingleside is the final book in the Anne series. Rilla is Anne’s youngest daughter, a slightly spoiled but still sweet fifteen year old who comes of age during the different years of World War I. The book focuses on the effects of the War on the tiny village of St. Mary’s Mead, and the Blythe family particularly. Rilla’s story of a rather selfish young girl learning true courage and selflessness in a chaotic world is quite inspiring, and a great book for girls 14 and older.

One fun way to present the Anne books would be to give one book each year as a traditional birthday gift starting at about age 12. In this case, I would recommend giving the first four books in order, then skipping to give books 7 and 8, then ending with books 5 and 6 since they have the most mature themes. You could even continue the tradition by gifting further Montgomery books about the Blythes such as Chronicles of Avonlea and The Road to Yesterday. I hope your daughters come to love Anne and the village of Avonlea as much as I do.

My 5 favorite children’s authors who also illustrate their books

One day, our then three year old daughter C was watching me read Homer Price to her older brother. When we finished the chapter, she went to the bookshelf and out of the confusion of several hundred picture books she carefully selected Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, and One Morning in Maine.

We were stunned that such a small child noticed McCloskey’s distinctive illustrations and correctly identified all the other McCloskey books we owned. Small children notice more than we think about picture books. The story is important, but so are beautiful illustrations! As St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Artists: “beauty is the visible form of the good.” Here are five authors who grasp this and personally pour effort both into crafting their story and creating artwork to accompany it.

1. Shirley Hughes is one of my absolute favorite children’s authors/illustrators. Not only are her distinctive illustrations carefully executed, they contain so many small details that little children delight in studying them. Her stories are always simple and engaging on the surface, but underneath they invariably present an age appropriate lesson. For example, Alfie Gets in First is a cautionary story about locking your parents out of the house. Moving Molly encourages children who are moving that there will be good aspects of their new homes. In Alfie and the Big Boys, Alfie exemplifies that even a small child can offer comfort and help to an older child. And Dogger is what I consider Hughes’ masterpiece: a tear-jerking tale of sibling love and sacrifice. Hughes also wrote one of my favorite book of children’s poetry:Out and About: A First Book of Poems.

 

2. Jan Brett‘s highly realistic and detailed illustrations are extremely popular right now, and I like most of her stories, though not all. One of my favorites is Fritz and the Beautiful Horses , a lovely story about a pony who realizes that being gentle and kind is more important than being physically beautiful. We also enjoy Annie and the Wild Animals, Town Mouse, Country Mouse and Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella. While I enjoy the illustrations in her Christmas themed books, I do not recommend them since she sadly promotes a heavily secularized view of Christmas.

 

3. Jane Hissey‘s endearing illustrations fittingly accompany the gentle adventures of a gang of stuffed animal friends in The Old Bear Collection. We love all her stories about Old Bear, Jolly Tall, Little Bear, Rabbit, and Bramwell!

 

 

 

 

4. Nick Butterworth is another English author whose stories we read with great appreciation. His stories, such as The Secret Path , star Percy the Park Keeper, a sweet-natured gardener who makes friends with all the animals in the park. The largest collection of Percy’s adventures, Percy the Park Keeper: A Classic Treasury, is out of print but can often be found in used condition quite cheaply.

 

 

5. To return to the anecdote I began with, my children all love Robert McCloskey‘s stories and illustrations. We also appreciate that not only does he draw illustrations for his simplest picture book, Blueberries for Sal, but he also includes fun illustrations in his chapter books like Homer Price.

Review of “If You Give a Moose a Muffin”

I remember enjoying listening to my parents reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when I was young. So I bought several of the “If you give…” books by Laura Numeroff sight unseen. I was quite disappointed when I began reading them to my own kids.

I will admit that my little ones were instantly captivated by these books. Something about the short phrases on each page, the simple, sequential story, or the animals’ antics amuses children. However, I reluctantly had to conclude most of this series needed to disappear in the night from our bookshelf.

The original If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is tolerable in my opinion (though not handsome enough to be a favorite for me). The illustrations are not as realistic and beautiful as I might ask in an ideal world, but do have a certain cuteness. The story line is actually helpful in explaining sequences and causes to very little children. And I appreciate how the little boy tries so hard to clean up after the mouse throughout the story. Of course, the deeper theme about desire following desire in a cyclical fashion is way over the intended audience’s head.

I could nitpick about Numeroff’s later books. For example, the illustrations move from cute and calm to sometimes frantic, as in If You Give a Cat a Cupcake Also, does it bother anyone else how though cookies and milk is an American combination, apple juice and donuts just don’t really go together?

But the book that I really take exception to is If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

Look at this moose.

Image result for pictures of if you give a moose a muffin

Observe the sweater. (Or is it a bolero?) Take note of the daisy.

Image result for pictures of if you give a moose a muffin

Notice the stance. This is a moose who carries a clutch purse. This moose is … a girl, right?

But no. “If you give a moose a muffin, HE’LL want some jam to go with it.” (My italics)

So, we have a male moose wearing a girly sweater with a daisy in the pocket, standing like a girl, carrying a clutch. Am I the only one who prefers my milk and cookies, or muffins and jam, unaccompanied by a homosexual or transgender normalizing agenda?

This book did not find a home on our bookshelf.

Review of “The Hunger Games”

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Colllins was a smashing success, inspiring a plethora of dystopian young adult novels, none of which are remotely as gripping in my opinion. For Hunger Games is undeniably a well-told story with captivating characters. Collins uses the first person present tense: an unusual choice, but unexpectedly successful in drawing in the reader and providing a memorable voice for the heroine, Katniss.

To fill you in on the plot, Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a teenager who is chosen as a “tribute” or contestant in a mandatory “game” (fight to the death) between 16 children imposed as a punishment on the 12 districts of post-nuclear war Panem by its authoritarian government, the Capitol. The first book focuses on the two tributes from District 12, Katniss and Peeta’s, preparations, the game, and its aftermath. Book Two, Catching Fire, brings Katniss and Peeta back for another round of the games, and introduces a new plot line about Rebels working to overthrow the Capitol. Book Three, Mockingjay, describes Katniss’  uneasy alliance with the rebels, ostensibly to overthrow the Capitol, but in reality to get revenge on those she holds responsible for destroying her life.

There are a good number of problems with these books on a philosophical and moral level, some serious, so this is a series which it is important to discuss with your teenagers and encourage them to read with analytical attention. A first theme to have them watch for is the attitude towards religion. Or rather, the lack of any attitude towards religion. In fact, make that no mention of religion or God at all. For Panem apparently came to exist in a vacuum in which no one even thinks of a creator or supreme being, even to curse him. This complete and intentional refusal to even allow the characters to mention any religious sensibility is a glaring moral problem with the series, but honestly I also think one can see a theme here that a world that has no religion and no recognition of God is a harsh, barbaric world. Little wonder that one ends up with the horror of the Hunger Games when mankind is making up its own morality based on no objective moral standards. The real wonder is that Katniss, Peeta, and others actually do show loyalty, kindness, and compassion. In my opinion, despite an obvious attempt to remove God from the picture, Collins’ portrayal of good and bad characters and default to natural law morality still reflects the reality of God.

Another problematic theme in this series is revenge. Katniss cares deeply about friends and family, and spends much of the later books motivated by her desire for revenge on those who harmed her loved ones. Collins sometimes even portrays her desire for revenge as a somewhat laudable motivation. The question for Collins is not whether revenge is the answer, but who is ultimately responsible for the pain and suffering and deserving of death. Not should one take revenge, but upon whom should one wreak vengeance? Katniss, deeply damaged by her experiences, declares she wants the Hunger Games played out again by the Capitol children as a punishment. Readers need to realize that her desire for vengeance is disordered, again pointing back to the problems with removing God and eternity from the worldview. A fitting companion book to read is The Count of Monte Cristo, which has a powerful theme about revenge not ultimately bringing fulfillment or happiness.

Unsurprisingly given the lack of any belief in God or afterlife, suicide receives a troubling treatment in the Hunger Games. In the climatic final scene of the Hunger Games in the first book, Katniss and Peeta defy the Capitol by threatening to kill themselves rather than kill each other. This solution is cleverly designed by the author to portray suicide as a noble course of action in certain circumstances. Of course, as Catholics we know that suicide is never acceptable, and a discerning reader can point out that there were other options for Katniss and Peeta. For instance, they could have simply refused to fight at all and let themselves be killed by the mutant dogs that had been attacking them. Defying the Capitol did not need to involve a suicide threat.

One final negative influence I will point out is the theme that adults are incapable or unreliable. Almost without exception, the adults in the story disappoint Katniss and thrust her into taking an adult role herself. Her mother suffers from severe depression and her father is dead, so she is the head of her family from the age of 12. Her mentor for the games is a drunkard. The authority figures in the Capitol are the sick individuals who ordered the Games. The head of the Rebels proves to be as heartless and scheming as the Capitol rulers. Collins places Katniss into a world where every adult fails her, forcing her into the role of heroine and Rebel figurehead as a sixteen year old. The real wonder is that Katniss seems to understand intuitively how to be a leader given her complete dearth of positive role models.

Now while I clearly do not wholeheartedly embrace the Hunger Games as a moral tale, I do think there are some worthwhile positive themes that cancel the negative and make this series acceptable reading material. A first positive moral in this series is the theme that violence is bad. There is an odd dichotomy between the amount of violence described in the series, and the theme that violence is wrong: that violence is never the answer. In the first book, Katniss finds herself forced into scenarios where she must kill or be killed, but what sets her apart from most other players in the Games is her attitude that the violence and killing is wrong. Katniss sees killing human beings as horrible, and through her perspective so does the reader. This positive message about violence does become murkier as the series progresses, with the third book particularly devolving towards more gratuitously described violence and a damaged Katniss starting to become numb. I do think that Collins’ conclusion of the series with Katniss portrayed as a troubled, haunted woman who cannot move past the violence and trauma she has witnessed and endured is accurate and an important point to emphasize.

The overarching redeeming theme in the Hunger Games series is the positive message that human beings are persons to be valued, not objects to be used. Katniss’ charisma comes from her ability to see the people she meets as human, her compassion for them, her humanization of  those she meets. The moments that everyone in the entire country loves her, such as her flower burial of a murdered 12 year old in the arena, are the moments when she combats dehumanization and makes everyone see the dignity of each person. Similarly, Peeta, the “good” character, is first seen as such for his kindness to Katniss and other people, even trying ones. His goodness is that he treats Katniss as a person from childhood onward. In contrast, the other character in the love triangle, Katniss’ friend Gale, loses her to Peeta because she cannot bear that he begins to treat people like animals. Likewise, the evil Capitol devalues human life, sentencing children to a sick game of slaughtering one another. The goodness or badness of persons and entities in the Hunger Games series is closely tied to their recognition or dehumanization of human persons.

Another theme that makes Hunger Games beautiful and memorable is that even in a brutal, dehumanizing totalitarian regime, people find the courage to help one another, treat each other as human beings, and resist, even if only by their silence. Several poignant scenes involve a protest where an entire District refuses to cheer, or offers a silent salute to Katniss’ human dignity-affirming actions. The message that evil flourishes when good people do nothing is strongly affirmed. All that it takes to begin to overthrow the Capitol’s power is a couple teenagers who refuse to kill one another. Their small resistance leads to silent protests, then to full out revolution.

The Hunger Games Trilogy teeters on the brink between truly worthwhile literature and sensational young adult fiction. The three books in the series vary greatly in coherency, theme, and merit. The first book, The Hunger Games, is the best in my opinion, and certainly worthy of having a high schooler read and discuss or write a paper on. Yes, there are some moral problems with the series, but with a little guidance, high schoolers can recognize the bad, take away the good themes, and enjoy a creative story.

Ideas for discussion questions or book report topics:
1. Does the author intentionally never mention God or religion? Is that a realistic picture of human nature: are people religious by nature? Despite attempting to remove God from the picture, does the author still acknowledge the natural law by creating good and bad characters? Does the author’s Godless world seem to need God?
2.Apply three of Peter Kreeft’s arguments for God’s existence to the world of Panem.
3. Are there any positive adult role models in Katniss’ life? Why would the author create a book where all the adults are deeply flawed? Does this play on a common teenagers’ assumption that they are wiser than adults?
4. Is violence portrayed as negative or positive? Killing? How well does Katniss recover from her ordeal? Peeta?
5. What are the moments Katniss most touches the world of Panem? Why do her compassionate, personhood-affirming actions resonate so strongly? Is it in contrast to the view of human dignity the Capitol takes?
6. How do people resist the Capitol regime? What does Catniss do (give examples) that is a catalyst for people waking up and refusing to allow the brutality of the Hunger Games any longer?

Good Books for Catholic 12 to 13 Year Olds 

Tween to teen is a tricky age to pick books for, since they are looking for something challenging, but are not ready for mature content yet. I strongly believe in not overwhelming children in this age range by exposing them too early to classic literature that was intended for adults, so you will not find Charles Dickens or Jane Austen on this list. But you will find books by many other fun, age appropriate authors such as Meriol Trevor, L. M. Montgomery, and Father Francis Finn. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books are beautifully written, inspiring books for girls and young women, featuring the struggles, triumphs, growing pains, and dreams of Anne. These books are often introduced to children too early; I highly recommend waiting until at least age 12 for the first book. Cheerful, dreamy Anne grows up throughout the series, so do not make the mistake of handing your daughter the whole series at once! The first three books are appropriate for middle schoolers; save the rest for high school.
Discussion: What virtues come easily to Anne? What are her flaws? How does she strive to improve herself? Does God have an important part in Anne’s life? What is most important to Anne: God, friends, home, beauty?

J. R R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, is a famous fantasy adventure both girls and boys enjoy. It may even inspire a reluctant reader to continue following the story of the ring in The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings.
Discussion: Tolkien’s books are rife with Christian symbolism and allegory. If your child becomes a real Tolkien devotee, offer The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft as an in depth look at Tolkien’s Christian perspective.

Catholic author Meriol Trevor wrote a captivating adventure series for Catholic middle schoolers which begins with The Crystal Snowstorm. Set in the tiny, fictional, European Catholic country of Letzenstein, these books chronicle the involvement of Catherine, Paul, and other English children in the politics and future of the throne of Letzenstein. The maturity, responsibility, and courage these children show are a breath of fresh air, as is Trevor’s unabashed use of a Catholic culture, faith, and values. Good and bad characters are clearly defined, all people are valued, a cripple is a hero, family trumps politics; I love Meriol Trevor. There are three sequels: Following the Phoenix , Angel and Dragon , and The Rose and Crown.

A stand alone book by Meriol Trevor, The Rose Round is on the surface a simple story of unlikely friendship between a poor cook and her brother with the rich son and granddaughter of their employer. But in typical Trevor fashion, there are many themes under the surface: being handicapped, what is truly ugly versus truly beautiful, whether love is a gift or something earned, emotional abusive people, how hurt people hurt others.

The Light Princess is a fairy tale by master storyteller George MacDonald. Subtle humor, a lesson about selfishness, and a redemption theme elevate this simple story about a princess who lost her gravity (both types) to classic literature level.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is, of course, an American classic. The famous story of the struggles and joys of four sisters raised by their widowed mother has delighted girls for generations. If your daughter loves this book, by all means offer the sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys .

A more sober but still enjoyable duo of books by Alcott, Eight Cousins
and Rose in Bloom take a thoughtful look at the virtues and flaws in eight cousins first as children then as young adults. As is typical in Alcott books, recklessness and laziness results in misfortune, while hard work, perseverance, and faithfulness are rewarded.
Discussion: Which cousins does Rose admire and why? Does Charlie bring on his own misfortune? In our current age and country marrying a cousin is atypical, but in Rose’s time it was normal.

Jack and Jill is a lesser known novel by Alcott, but at least as wonderful as her more famous works. This is another thoughtful look at the long term consequences, good and bad, recklessness can have on the doer, the injured, their families, and a whole community. And also a simply fabulous story.
Discussion: How does Jill suffer for her recklessnes? How does the free forgiveness offered her change her? How does God bring good out of her carelessness?

An Old-Fashioned Girl, a stand alone novel by Alcott, has a timely message about peer pressure and staying true to one’s values even when others see them as outdated. The heroine discovers compromising her values in order to fit in doesn’t gain her real happiness.

Have a tween who doesn’t want to read saint books? Check out my review of Catholic comic book The Saints Chronicles.

Fr. Francis Finn understood boys, and his books reflect his belief that though your average school boy is not a saint, he should strive to be one. His books are school stories about boys and for boys, complete with humor, adventure, fights, friendship, and forgiveness, and are overall imbued with a deeply Catholic worldview. His most well known trilogy begins with Tom Playfair: Or Making a Start, which is a story of a mischievous boy whose energy, when properly channeled, becomes fervor for Christ. The series continues with Percy Wynn or Making a Boy of Him, in which Tom helps teach a boy raised by his sisters about manly virtues, and Harry Dee: Or Working it Out.

Outlaws of Ravenhurst is a captivating adventure about a Scottish Catholic clan’s struggle for freedom to worship during a Catholic persecution. This inspiring story makes real the challenges and amazing faith and courage displayed by Catholics facing martyrdom.
Note: These books will particularly resonate with boys, but girls love them too!

The Great and Terrible Quest was one of the most loved books in the large family I grew up in by both boys and girls. Young Trad, an orphan, risks his life to save and care for a wounded knight. The orphan and knight set out on a quest for something which the knight cannot remember. Bravery, sacrifice, love, redemption, and some fine storytelling make this story memorable.

The Good Bad Boy, by Fr. Brennan, is written as a diary detailing the everyday challenges and thoughts of a thirteen year old Catholic boy growing up in the mid twentieth century.

The Drovers Road Collection: Three New Zealand Adventures is an absolutely charming collection of anecdotes about a young girl growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Often funny, sometimes touching, with nuggets of true wisdom, these stories told by the poignant voice of young Gabrielle carry the message that life may look different on the other side of the world, but people love and learn just the same.

The Sherwood Ring is a unique combination of modern day mystery and historical fiction, with a touch of romance for good measure. This is just a well written, well researched, fun read.

Fabiola is an inspiring story about the early church during the Roman persecutions. Fabiola is a convert to Christianity whose faith is tested by fire. Cameos by popular early saints such as Sebastian add a true story feel to this Christian historical fiction.

The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is World War II historical fiction focused in a unique location: the Alpine region of Italy held by American forces. Twelve year old Chico knows the Americans are supposed to be his enemies, but ends up befriending a soldier, whose life he later saves with some help from a heroic little donkey and a creative Catholic monk.

Cleared for Action!: Four Tales of the Sea is a collection of four books by Stephen Meader, a fine author of historical fiction. These tales of courage and fortitude span fifty years of American history, including the Civil War, and are particularly interesting for boys.

Midshipman Quinn: Collection is a collection of four humorous, adventurous stories about nerdy Septimus Quinn who joins the British Royal Navy at age 15 in 1803. These historical fiction tales are made memorable by Quinn’s quirky, resourceful, ever-loyal personality.

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is the first book in Ralph Moody’s masterful retelling of growing up in the western United States at the turn of the twentieth century. This series is in many ways a twentieth century equivalent of the Little House series. Moody has a captivating storytelling style which combines details about everyday life with an engaging overall plot. Our favorite books include The Home Ranch , in which Ralph spends a summer working as a hired hand on a ranch, and Shaking the Nickel Bush, in which a broke Ralph road trips through the west making money by sculpting bankers.

A majority of Catholic historical fiction focuses on male protagonists, so I am happy to add Madeleine Takes Command to this list. Teenage Madeleine shows true heroism as she takes command of the family stockade in New France and defends her people against the Iroquois.

The Red Keep is swashbuckling historical fiction set in twelfth century France. Young Conan is determined to save the Red Keep for its rightful owner, Lady Anne. Allen French writes enjoyable, engaging historical fiction. He also wrote The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow, which is a wonderful Viking-era story with a moral about sacrifice and redemption.

G. A. Henty is, in my humble opinion, the gold standard when it comes to historical fiction. This prolific English author wrote dozens of novels intended to educate his teenage audience on wars, countries, cultures, history. My favorites include: Beric the Briton, A Story of the Roman Invasion, With Lee in Virginia, True to the Old Flag, <In the Heart of the Rockies: An Adventure on the Colorado River, and Cat of Bubastes.
Discussion: Henty is not afraid to take a controversial perspective and tell the other side of a story. For example, in True to the Old Flag, he offers the British perspective on the American Revolution. The theme to discuss would be that in a war, there are human beings on both sides who end up suffering.

For your Egyptian historical fiction, I recommend Shadow Hawk and Mara, Daughter of the Nile . Court secrets, espionage, danger, a touch of romance: these books will hold a reader’s attention and stick in their memory.

Across Five Aprils is civil-war era historical fiction about young Jethro, who comes of age amidst the conflict of the War Between the States.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is an absorbing novel set in 1490s Poland. This story offersman interesting combination of legend with the real fact that to this day the trumpet is played on the hour in Krakow.

In World War II historical fiction, Escape from Warsaw will please boys and girls with its brother-sister protagonists. Set in the chaos accompanying the end of the war, three children must use courage and cooperation to escape Warsaw and travel across Europe to rejoin their parents.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction about Roman Briton are some of my favorite books to recommend. Sutcliff is both an enchanting storyteller and an excellent writer. You will leave with the feeling you have visited Briton and made a new cast of friends after reading The Eagle of the Ninth , The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers .

Taken by the Enemy is first in a fascinating series in that Oliver Optic wrote it soon after the Civil War, thus offering a unique historical perspective. This story of a teenage boy attempting to recover his sister from the south on the eve of the war is a tale of courage and family loyalty.

Fingal’s Quest by Madeleine Polland is a great coming of age story set against the backdrop of Irish monastic life in the sixth century. There are great thought provoking themes about what doing God’s will really means.

The Red Badge of Courage is a very well known Civil War historical fiction novel about a young man’s experience fighting in the Union Army. Memorable for its depiction of the horror of war, it is also offers a good storyline of character development through the young man’s personal battle againt cowardice.

In the realm of animal fiction, The Yearling is a famous book with its timeless themes of growing up and sacrifices. A bit sad, but a classic every young person should read.

One of my absolute favorite authors in animal fiction, Albert Payson Terhune writes with such evident affection for his beloved collie chums the reader inevitably falls in love too. His most famous book is Lad: A Dog, but he wrote equally wonderful stories about his other collie friends such as Bruce, Treve, and Gray Dawn.

How’s Inky? is the first of naturalist Sam Campbell’s books about his animal friends of the forest. Campbell combines funny anecdotes with a down to earth philosophy of life in these very enjoyable books.

Old Yeller is an American classic, comparable to The Yearling with its themes of growing up and responsibility. This is a poignant, tear-jerking story of love, loyalty, and making tough, right decisions.

The Incredible Journey is another animal story, this time about three determined pets whose loyalty and perseverance are tested on a trans-Canadian journey to find their owner. This is the book that inspired Homeward Bound.

Another classic boy-dog growing up story, Where the Red Fern Grows is the famous story of Billy and his two hounds growing up together in the Ozarks. By turns tragic and hopeful, this book is certainly worth reading for its themes of hard work, courage, perseverance, and faith.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is the touching life story of a horse, as told by Black Beauty himself. This story is sure to delight any young horse lover.

Loved by generations, Lassie Come-Home tells a story of loyalty and perseverance as Lassie crosses Scotland to find her master.

Pollyanna should be read for culturL literacy, but sometimes is read too young. The drama of Pollyanna not being wanted is rather heavy content for a young child, so I prefer waiting until this age when the reader can better understand that Pollyanna’s hardships are used as a foil to highlight her cheerfulness in adversity.

Henry Reed, Inc. is a simply hilarious book by Robert McCloskey about quirky Henry and sensible Midge, two all-American kids with big schemes enjoying summer in small town USA. The best part of this book is the creativity and resourcefulness these kids show. No wasting time in front of the TV here!

The Weka-Feather Cloak: A New Zealand Fantasy is an exciting, colorful adventure story with a Catholic twist. Nuns, art, legend, demons, saints, a disabled girl, thieves, and angels all play a part in this creative story by Leo Madigan.

Banner in the Sky is the story of Rudi, who wants to fulfill his dead father’s dream of climbing the treacherous mountain known as The Citadel. This story highlights perseverance and courage.

Also check out my lists Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic KidsGood Books for Catholic Kids that are also Good Movies, and Good Catholic Books for Catholic Teens.

Good Books for… Catholic 10 to 11 year olds

There are a lot of awesome books for 10 to 11 year olds! On this list, I have included books from a wide range of genres. Many classic children’s books such as Little House and A Little Princesscan be introduced at this age. More in depth biographies of saints are, of course, good reading material. Historical fiction from both Catholic and secular authors is a fun way to expand your child’s understanding of historical eras. I also include some fantasy and modern children’s fiction to round out the reading diet.

Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series is my personal favorite when it comes to children’s series. Ransome’s command of the English language and skill as a storyteller make for charming adventures featuring three sets of siblings in the English lake country. Your child is sure to identify with one of the cast of characters and wish to read more of the stories, gaining an appreciation for fine writing and heaps of useful information about everything from sailing to gold mining to pigeon keeping.
Discussion: How are the different strengths and personalities of the characters integral to the sucessful completion of the adventure?

Ignatius Press has a wonderful series of Saint biographies called the Vision books. This series features saints sych as Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maiden, Saint Francis of the Seven Seas , Saint Therese and the Roses , and Saint Ignatius and the Company of Jesus . All the books in the Vision series are written simply and engagingly and should be as exciting and inspiring as an adventure story for Catholic kids.

Another great series with about 30 books, including some on recently canonized saints such as Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Saint John Paul II, is Pauline Books and Media’s Encounter the Saints series.

A third wonderful series about saints for this age range is Mary Fabyan Windeatt’s Lives of the Saints series. She writes simply but eloquently about saints such as Saint Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima.

Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague is another book every child should read, both for her fine writing and compelling story. Two children’s perseverance in catching and buying their special pony is a fine story, but when you add the deeper theme of sacrifice for another’s good, then you have a great classic.
Discussion: What do Paul and Maureen sacrifice for love of Phantom?
If you love Misty, Paul and Maureen, there are two sequels: Stormy, Misty’s Foal and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague.

Marguerite Henry also wrote a tall stack of other books about horses. My favorites include King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian, which is a sandy middle eastern story about a real horse from whom many Arabians today are descended, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse, which is again based on the facts of how the Morgan breed was developed.

If your family hasn’t encountered Hilda Van Stockum yet, you are in for a treat. This gifted Catholic author wrote some truly wonderful children’s books about the triumphs and disasters, humorous moments and touching times, all experienced by a large, happy family. The Mitchells: Five for Victory is the first book in her series about the American Mitchell family. The first book sees the family through World War II, and the two sequels, Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables , follow the family on a transcontinental move to Canada, a summer in a primitive cottage, and eventually to their new home in Montreal.

Prepare for a bit o’ Irish brogue creeping into your chikdren’s conversation when you give them Hilda Van Stockum’s Bantry Bay Trilogy: The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie on the Run , and Pegeen . These stories about the poor but happy O’Sullivan clan are chockful of gentle family adventures and Irish charm.
Discussion: Are the O’Sullivans happier for being poor in material things?

The Winged Watchman is an amazing adventure about the Dutch resistance in World War II and their work to help the Jews. Young Jan teaches a powerful lesson of bravery, perseverance, and protecting the innocent which any child will benefit from reading. The horrors of the war and evil the Nazis inflicted on the Jews are mentioned, but not described graphically.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are two of my favorite books of all time, though very different books. The Good Master is a warm family embrace, the story of young Jansci, his patient, wise father, and kind, hardworking mother taking in his troubled cousin Kate and transforming her life through everyday farm work and family love. It is hilarious and heart warming and full of colorful Hungarian traditions. Its sequel, The Singing Tree, is a darker war story as Jansci takes charge of the farm and an ever-growing flock of fleeing family members, homeless refugees, orphans, and Russian prisoners of war. With moments of humor, this book is poignant and touching and deeply inspiring. Jansci and Kate’s hard work and open hearts bring joy to all that find refuge on the farm.

C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia hold a well-deserved place in the canon of children’s classics. These books’ clearly defined battles between good and evil and extensive Christian symbolism and allegory, combined with a fantaay setting and engaging characters, make these books basically perfect material to capture and inspire a child’s imagination.
Discussion: Encourage your child to note as many parallels to and symbols of Christianity as possible.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House books are American classics, important reading for their accurate portrayal of pioneer life, for the many lessons about growing in virtue, and because Laura is a fine writer. The later books in the series, when Laura is grown up, are not as appropriate or particulary interesting for a 10 or 11 year old, but the first four books and Farmer Boy are perfect to introduce at this age.

Nancy Carpenter Brown has simplified four of G. K. Chesterton’s most popular stories to create a great introduction to this master for younger children. The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton will inspire your child to want to read the original Father Brown stories in a few years.

Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain Trilogy is perfect for the adventurous, the animal and nature lover, or the dreamer. These stories of a boy building a home in the wilderness and taming a falcon are sure to inspire courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, creative thinking, and a good work ethic.
Discussion idea: Sam’s family lives in an overcrowded city apartment so he decides to go live on his grandfather’s remote acreage. Although this is a wonderful story to read, is it really a good idea for a young boy to go off and live alone in the woods? Or was it okay for Sam to go since his parents approved?

Elizabeth Enright created the memorable Melendy Quartet back in the 1940’s, but these four children’s personalities still burst forth from the pages. In The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet), the siblings explore Manhattan by an ingenuous plan of pooling their allowance so that each child has enough to make a trip once a month. The family moves to an eccentric country house in The Four-Story Mistake . In Then There Were Five , the children befriend and eventually officially adopt an orphan boy down the road. My favorite of the series s the last one, Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze, in which the three older siblings, leaving for school, design an elaborate treasure hunt to keep their younger siblings from being lonely. These books truly promote family love and friendship, compassion, and creativity.

A Little Princess is a beautiful, classic story which teaches little girls that it doesn’t matter whether you are dressed in rags or decked out in riches, it is what’s inside that makes a princess. Sara Crewe learns by harsh experience how differently one is treated when penniless, but her kind heart and cheerful attitude find her true, loyal friends.
Discussion: Is it easiest to see who one’s true friends are when one is poor and in trouble?

Nancy Belanger is a present day Catholic writer doing a phenomenal job writing for young girls. Olivia and the Little Way is an engaging, inspiring story about a fifth grade girl struggling with peer pressure who finds a friend and helper in St. Therese of Lisieux. This book has the potential to transform young lives through an introuction to the Little Way.

George MacDonald was a great writer who inspired J. R. R. Tolkien, and the old but good classic The Princess and the Goblin is a perfect introduction to his works for a young reader. The story is half fairy tale, half allegory, and completely charming. There are many gems of wisdom, such as the famous line, “Seeing is not believing… It is only seeing.” This story forms the sacramental imagination and a Christian worldview without being overtly preachy.

Beorn the Proud is a story of contrasts: proud Beorn the Viking and his humble captive Ness, and the Norse religion and Christianity, form an intriguing juxtaposition in this historical fiction novel from Madeleine Pollard. This book both informs about the Viking lifestyle and offers an example of apologetics in action.

Caddie Woodlawn is a collection of anecdotes about irrepressible, red-haired Caddie and her siblings’ scrapes and adventures on their family farm in frontier America. Throughout the stories runs a theme of growing up, and what it really means to be a woman of character.
Discussion: What virtues would the ideal woman show? Can one be gentle and compassionate, but at the same time courageous and resolute?

Two young girls escape off a sinking ship in a lifeboat full of… babies? Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink may take the prize for most creative plot on this list. It is quite hilarious, of course, as the sisters struggle to corral and care for four babies while surviving on a deserted island. But this book is also inspiring, because these girls show cheerfulness, and an indomitable work ethic, and resourcefulness, and patience beyond their years.

Frances Burnett’s most popular book, The Secret Garden , is a beautifully written (get the unabridged edition!) English classic which follows young Mary, quite contrary, who finds redemption in a garden. There are wonderful instances of compassion, friendship, kindness, and patience throughout, and an overarching theme that people can change for the better- not just Mary, but her cousin, friends, and even a sour old man.

Grandma’s Attic Treasury by Arleta Richardson is a collection of humorous ancedotes that a grandma tells her grandchildren about her childhood in the pioner days. The stories usually impart a good lesson such as appreciating your siblings or forgiving a friend.

The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery is a thought provoking historical fiction novel set in England during the American Revolution. Three personable British children befriend an American prisoner of war and gain a new perspective on the justice of the war. This book teaches important lessons about the cost of war to both sides involved, and how kindness and loyal friendship can build bridges between honorable men with opposing positions.

Also by Constancw Savery, Enemy Brothers is the captivating, moving story of Max, a boy stolen as a baby and raised to be a Nazi, who is suddenly returned to his real English family as World War II begins. Max learns the power of truth, goodness, and love to change hearts and minds as he struggles to decide where his loyalties lie.

Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard, is a story of the love between a boy and a dog, the story of a poor boy overcoming the odds to win, and the story of an epic battle between the savage wilderness and the friendship of boy and dog. Yes, all in one book. This series, which includes Irish Red and Outlaw Red, is a must read, particularly for boys, for its depiction of bravery, loyalty, and friendship. Jim Kjelgaard was a prolific writer, and any books by him you can find in print are worth buying!

The Twenty-One Balloons is a fun and funny tale of a tired professor whose attempt at a solitary balloon voyage goes sorely awry. Somehow, he ends up in the wrong ocean with far too many balloons, and his fantastical tale of how this occurred is the substance of the book. Well written, this book inspires creativity and resourcefulness.

Brian Jacques’ Redwall and sequels are charming fantasy tales of an animal world where good and evil are very clearly defined and it is easy tell heroes from villains. Children, especially boys, love these books, and many reluctant readers can be coaxed into a love of reading by them.

Edith Nesbit’s books blend fantasy and everyday life in a captivating fashion. I think the worthwhile lesson for Catholic children is a recognition of the transcendence and the existence of things unseen. For example, the magical Psammead in Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet does not actually exist, but reading these books broadens the child’s imagination. The “magic” here is not the controversial sort of spells and witches found in Harry Potter, but rather of the genii in a bottle who grants wishes fairy tale variety.

All-of-a-Kind Family is a wonderful collection of anecdotes about a Jewish family with five daughters living in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. This book is brimming with family warmth and love and a spirit of working together cheerfully. If your girls love this book, fortunately they can read more about Ella, Henny, Charlotte, Sarah, and Gertie in More All-Of-A-Kind Family.

Margaret Sydney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew is another American classic from the turn of the twentieth century. This story of a widowed mother and her five children working together to survive poverty and sickness is a classic because of the overwhelming love, loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice the members of the family shows for each other.

The Wheel on the School is a modern classic about children in a Dutch village who dream of bringing the storks back to nest in their village. This is a story of how dreams can come true through teamwork.
Discussion: Do you have a dream for making a difference in some way to share with your parents and family? How can we work together to accomplish this dream?

Adam of the Road is historical fiction set in thirteenth century England. Eleven year old Adam loses both his minstrel father and dog but with strong determination sets out across England to find them. A tale of perseverance.

For a bit of Irish history and adventure, read Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal . Hugh was a real Irishman whose capture, exciting escape, battle against the elements, and dramatic homecoming make for an engrossing story of courage and perseverance.

Snow Treasure is an inspiring true story about a group of brave Norwegian children who sled over nine milllion dollars in gold safely past the Nazis and out of their country.

First Farm in the Valley is the story of a Polish immigrant family living in the midwest in pioneer days. There is a wealth of Polish Catholic tradition in these heart warming anecdotes about family, friendship, and faith.

Historical fiction with an animal twist, SeaMan: The Dog Who Explored The West With Lewis & Clark is an enjoyable account of Lewis and Clark’s exploration as told by their huge Newfoundland, Seaman. A story of courage and loyalty.

Robert Lawson “discovered, edited, and illustrated” some remarkable accounts of American patriots, as written by their pets. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos and Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere,Esq. as Revealed by his Horse are two of these hilarious, informative stories of inspiring Americans.

By the wonderful authoress Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl is the story of a family struggling to make a home in central Florida in the early twentieth century. There are so many good themes: forgiveness, loving your enemy and neighbor, especially when they’re the same person, and redemption.

Augustine Came to Kent is half saint biography, half historical fiction. Through the eyes of British born Wolf, the reader watches St. Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to restore Catholicism to England in the sixth century.

Calico Bush is historical fiction set during the French and Indian War about a young French indentured servant. Marguerite has to promise to serve a hostile English family for seven years in exchange for food and shelter, but her kindness, resourcefulness, and courage win them over.
Discussion: Is it right for a person to promise to serve another in exchange for basic necessities? Is this like slavery? Or is it a good solution for an orphan? What would your solution be?

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman is a humorously told look at the California Gold Rush. Twelve year old Jack and his faithful butler go west in search of gold to save his aunt from losing her house. Courage, loyalty, and laugh out loud fun abound in this adventurous tale.

Paddle-to-the-Sea is a wonderfully illustrated book that combines a wealth of information about the geography of the great lakes with an entertaining story about a wooden man traveling to the sea. An award winning classic that has the potential to awaken an interest in geography.

If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket follows two brothers, one in the service of Henry II and one a scribe for Thomas Becket, to examine the character of the two men and follow the events leading to the infamous cathedral martyrdom. An inspiring story of courage and loyalty.

The Great Wheel is historical fiction about a young Irish immigrant who becomes involved in the construction of the first Ferris Wheel. Robert Lawson’s illustrations are always enjoyable, as is this story about perseverance and industriousness.

Turn Homeward, Hannalee is a historical fiction novel based on true events involving a southern mill town. Hannalee is determined to make her way back home to Georgia from the northern mill at which she had been forced to work. A story of courage and perseverance, and also a great book for discussing the War between the States.
Discussion: Were both North and South hurt by the war? Why did the South want to leave the United States? Should they have been allowed to according to the Consitution?

To round out perception of the Civil War issues by offering a slave’s perspective, read Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. This is an inspiring true story of a courageous woman.

Toliver’s Secret is an inspiring Revolutionary War story about a timid girl who must rise to the occasion and deliver an important message to George Washington. This book will resonate both with the timid and the adventurous child as Ellen finds her courage and sucessfully delivers her message.

Johnny Tremain is another Revolutionary War historical fiction story, this time about a boy with a crippled hand who rides as a messenger for several famous patriots such as Paul Revere and John Adams. An interesting look at the founding fathers, combined with a theme of working through disability, makes this a worthwhile read.

World War II is a fascinating period for children to read about. North to Freedom by Danish author Ann Holm is a thought provoking look at what experiencing everyday life might be like for a boy who grew up in a concentration camp. The book’s original title in Europe was I am David, and the movie of the same name is excellent too.

Number the Stars is another story about the Danish resistance in World War II. A ten year old girl and her family exhibit courage and sacrifice through their determination to save their Jewish friends.

Treasures of the Snow is a touching story that illustrates actions have consequences, bitterness breeds more bitterness, and forgiveness is freedom. This and other books by Patricia St. John have beautiful Christian themes. Keep in mind that these books are more evangelical Protestant in their message than Catholic, though. Rejoice in the overall Christian message, but be prepared to discuss differences between Catholicism and Protestantism with your child.
Discussion: Challenge your child to find examples of Protestant theology versus Catholic in the book. Is there more to Christianity than simply acknowledging Jesus as savior?

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes is a mid twentieth century classic about the adventures a somewhat chaotic family of imaginative, active children. Humorous and entertaining, themes of family love and sibling loyalty make this book memorable.

Homer Price is a story about a happier, simpler era when a donut machine was an exciting and difficult invention. Truly a hilarious story, complete with Robert McCloskey’s humorous illustrations, this book encourages both creativity and critical thinking.

Both humorous and inspiring, The Toothpaste Millionaire is about a pair of sixth graders who start a toothpaste business and through a combination of hard work and creative vision enjoy amazing success.

If you are fortunate to be able to find a copy, Fr. James Tierney’s Bush Boys on the Move and the other books in his Bush Boys Series are wonderful adventures about a group of children exploring the Australian bush.

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat is his whimsical account of growing up with two pet owls in a small town. Mowat is a well known nature writer and his books are great for inspiring appreciation for nature and animals.

If you have a 10 year old boy who just plain refuses to read, offer him The Adventures of Tintin. Suddenly, you will have a voracious reader. Almost guaranteed. These classic graphic novels captivate boys (and girls) with their exciting adventures.
Warning: These books do include a certain amount of drinking and some creative curses such as “Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles in a Thundering Typhoon.” The alcohol use is portrayed in a negative light and frowned on by the hero.

Charlotte’s Web is a classic about a group of anamorphized animals. Justly a classic for its depiction of love, friendship, and death. However, it can be upsetting for a very sensitive child to think animals have this much feeling.
Discussion: Do animals really have feelings? Can a spider really be happy? What about a pig? A dog? What is happiness? Is it something specific to humans?

 

Also check out my list Good Graphic Novels and Comic Books for Catholic Kids.

Your children may also enjoy these book/movie pairings: Good Books for Catholic Kids that are also Good Movies.

Good Books for… Catholic 8 to 9 year olds 

There are so many wonderful children’s books for 8 to 9 year olds. They can enjoy reading for themselves many books read aloud to them at 6 or 7, but also have the excitement of reading new books for the first time by themselves. I still strongly believe in reading aloud to children at this age, so I will note some books on this list that may be more appropriate to read aloud. Also, children this age will enjoy hearing books on my family read alouds list.

The Ordinary Princess is the perfect princess story to teach ordinary girls that they can still be princesses. Her royal highness Princess Amethyst, or Amy as she prefers to be called, leaps from the pages, brown haired, freckled, and determined to go play in the woods rather than settle down to sewing tapestries. Amy learns about hard work, perseverance, simple pleasures and even finds true love with a prince as unusual as she is. The ordinary princess turns out to be an extraordinary person. Every little girl should read this book!

A Life of Our Lord for Children is a wonderful book by Marigold Hunt which will invite your child to meditate on the life of Christ. This book offers explanations of confusing parts of the Gospels, and is written in a friendly, conversational style.

Catechism of the Seven Sacraments is a great option for boys who are a bit resistant to sitting down and reading heavy theology! My son loves this comic book style version of the Catechism. This book is jam-packed full of gems of theology such as the Four Cups, Divine Mercy, and so much more!

Sixty Saints for Girls> is the Catholic saint version of princess tales for little girls. Joan Windham does not strive for historical accuracy, but rather to share legends and the essence of sainthood, which is serving God through heroic virtue. Girls will be inspired by these stories of female saints throughout the ages.

Sixty Saints for Boys is the boy equivalent of Windham’s book for girls. Again, talk to your children about how these stories are not meant to be taken as historically accurate in every detail, but rather as inspiring legends based on the facts of the saints holy lives.

An Extraordinary Friend: The Adventures of Jamie and Bella is the first in a series of exciting adventure stories written by a Catholic priest. They are fun to read, yet offer a Catholic perspective on every day events. Each book has thought-provoking questions at the end for your child to think about or discuss with a parent.

Freddy the Detective is a funny mystery featuring Freddy the Pig, the hero of a whole series of once popular and sadly forgotten children books. Freddy is inspired by Sherlock Holmes to attempt solving crimes, but finds the justice process more complex than he anticipated. This book introduces children to the concepts of justice, trials, and even jurisprudence. A wonderful read aloud, it is also possible for an 8 to 10 year old to read on their own. If you love Freddy, the literate pig, read more about him inFreddy Plays Football.

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes: Stories of Catholic Heroes and Saints throughout History is a wonderful book by Amy Welborn that will inspire your children with stories about modern saints and blesseds. For even more saints stories, check out its companion book Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, by the wonderful Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, is the story of funny, spunky, unnaturally. strong Pippi and her very normal friends Tommy and Anneka. Pippi is an orphan who lives alone and does just as she pleases, which is an interesting idea to a child, but behind the fun and adventures, Lindgren is careful to show how Pippi misses her parents and struggles to live a normal life without them. Their are also great themes of friendship, loyalty, generosity, cheerfulness, and kindness in these books.

A lesser known but in my opinion even more enjoyable series by Lindgren is The Children of Noisy Village. Nine year old Lisa will captivate your child with her stories of life in her tiny Swedish village. A great introduction to the country of Sweden and exposure to Swedish customs, and overall just a fun read. There are two further books about Noisy Village: Happy Times in Noisy Village and Christmas in Noisy Village .

Sid Fleischman’s The Whipping Boy was clearly inspired by Mark Twain’s The Prince and Pauper. It is a hilarious story of traded identities, unlikely friendship, and loyalty.

McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales offers more hilarity from Sid Fleischman. McBroom and his large family find happiness in farm life on one miraculously fertile acre. Fanciful and fun, the cheerfulness and teamwork make these tall tales worthwhile reading.

Saint Brendan And The Voyage Before Columbus is a short book with the interesting tale of Saint Brendan, who legend says voyaged to America before Columbus. The moral is that all adventures can bring us closer to God.

Did you know that Ian Fleming of James Bond fame wrote one children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car? This fanciful adventure story about a car that can talk, fly, and sail and its mission to stop a gang of robbers is quite different than the storyline of the popular old movie with the same title, but I enjoyed the book more! This is a classic adventure of good versus evil, justice being achieved, and friendship.

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books are charming stories about the friendship and adventures of three little girls. These books follow Betsy, Tacy, and Tib from age 5 up through adulthood, so I would only recommend these first four books for 8 to 9 year olds.

A Lion to Guard Us is War for Independence (Revolutionary War) era historical fiction about three children venturing across the Atlantic Ocean in search of their father. Many good themes about perseverance, courage, and responsibility can be gleaned.

The Secret Valley is not just an interesting historical fiction story about the California gold rush. More importantly, it is a story about greed versus need, and wishes coming true in unexpected ways.

Lion in the Box by the wonderful Marguerite De Angeli, is a Christmas story about a poor family struggling to make ends meet. A good reminder for children that some people live in poverty, but still a happy ending thanks to an unexpected gift.

Another thought provoking book by Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall tells the story of Robin, a boy in the fourteenth century who loses the use of his legs. A monk rescues the boy and teaches him that life can still be meaningful for a cripple. This gem has so many good lessons about patience, courage, compassion, and hard work.

Almost everything by Marguerite de Angeli is worth reading, but I will limit my list to one more of her works. Skippack School tells about the life of a German immigrant boy starting school in America. As always with de Angeli, you get lovely illustrations and many good themes about hard work, patience, perseverance, and kindness.

The Family from One End Street is a collection of stories about the seven children of a large family living in small town America in the 1930’s. The family is very poor, but the lesson that money does not determine happiness shines forth in these funny, touching stories of large family life.

Lost in Peter’s Tomb is the first in a series of books by Catholic author Dianne Ahern that feature Sister Philomena, both nun and special investigator for the pope. Although I don’t love Ahern’s use of the present tense in her books, she does offer a wealth of information about Rome, the pope, Assisi, Siena, and many other Catholic tidbits that your child will not learn or retain as easily elsewhere. So, I consider these fun little mysteries worthwhile reading.

Beverly Cleary’s books have delighted children for a few generations now. There are a lot of titles, but Henry and Ribsy is one of my favorites because it is told from the dog’s perspective. Any animal lover is sure to love reading the touching story of Ribsy’s scrapes and delights. I do not recommend investing in all of Cleary’s books since I find her characters do not consistently show growth in virtue, but this book is worth reading.

“B” Is for Betsy is the first in a series of books written by Carolyn Haywood in the 1940’s but still relatable and enjoyable today. Children will connect with Betsy’s struggles and victories in starting school, making friends, and growing up. The children in these books show kindness, compassion, and friendship.

Carolyn Haywood also wrote a series featuring a boy, Penny, so nicknamed because his hair is red as a penny. Here’s a Penny is the first in this series about the adventures and struggles of this adopted boy. Again, you get children who show kindness and true friendship in these sweet stories.

Alice Dagleish wrote two wonderful books about the nature of courage, one featuring a boy and one a girl. The Courage of Sarah Noble is the story of little Sarah’s journey through the forest with her father to find a new home, and her gradual discovery that courage is not a lack of fear, but rather bravery in the midst of fear.

Boys will particularly identify with Jonathan in Dagleish’s The Bears on Hemlock Mountain as he sets out alone across the mountain to fetch a pot from his aunts house. He shows courage and perseverance on his trek and proves that there are indeed bears on hemlock mountain.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle understands children because she likes them! She is the grandma-figure extraordinaire whose house is children’s heaven, and always has sage advice for overwhelmed parents. Tucked in these humorous tales are morals children will glean: don’t be a picky eater, listen to your parents, clean up your room, and so on.

The Happy Hollisters is the first in a long series of mysteries featuring the Hollister family. Each book features the large Hollister family who exemplify cheerfulness and teamwork as they help others by solving mysteries. I strongly believe mysteries are important for children to read becuse they instill a strong thirst for justice and interest in problem solving.

The Boxcar Children Books 1-4 are fun, easy to read mysteries about four siblings, Henry, Jessie, Violet and Bennie. The later books in the series fall off greatly in quality, but the original books by Gertrude Warner from the 1940s are enjoyable classic children’s stories of a simpler life in the first half of the twentieth century before computers and cell phones. There are good lessons about responsibility, perseverance, resourcefulness, and kindness. Prepare to be amazed at the ingenuity of four children making a home in an old boxcar. Journey with the Aldens to Surprise Island for a unique tropical vacation and find a castaway. These were my very favorite books at this age!

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is an American classic about Mr. Popper, a housepainter, and the escepades of his penguins. Funny and touching both, this is a book about dreams coming true, showing both the good and bad consequences.

The Bobbsey Twins In and Out and its sequels are fun mystery stories featuring two sets of twins. They provide a picture of middle class life in the first half of the twentieth century, complete with African American servants, so a gentle discussion about that subject would be appropriate before handing this over for your children to enjoy.