St. Conrad and the Wildfire is a brand-new children’s book by Maura McKeegan. Our family had never heard of St. Conrad of Piacenza before, but after reading this book he is one of our new favorite saints. Both adults and children can appreciate this inspiring true story about the importance of telling the truth and owning up to one’s mistakes.
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Who was St. Conrad?
St. Conrad of Piacenza was an Italian nobleman in the fourteenth century. He ordered his servants to set a fire to smoke out a stag while hunting, but the fire grew out of control and razed nearby villages and fields. At first, Conrad is ashamed to admit he caused the fire. But after an innocent man is arrested and charged with his crime, Conrad chooses to step forward and take responsibility for the fire. The process of making restitution to his victims costs Conrad nearly all his wealth. But to his surprise, Conrad feels happier as a poor but honest man than ever before in his life.
Already, you can see the beauty and power of this story. Without being at all didactic, the facts of this story illustrate so clearly the importance of telling the truth, owning up to one’s mistakes, having contrition, and making restitution. My 5 year old immediately compared this story to going to Confession.
Another part of this story we loved was Conrad’s sweet, loyal wife Euphrosyne. Euphrosyne stands by Conrad at his worst moment when he admits he has destroyed the village, saying, “I will stand by my husband, and we will make amends together, even if it means relinquishing all that we own.” What an awesome example of an inspiring married couple, moving towards sainthood hand in hand!
One of the Best Picture Books I’ve Read This Year
On top of being a simply fantastic story, this picture book is graced with beautiful, peaceful illustrations. I enjoyed the subtle medieval notes such as the illuminated first letter on some pages, which fit with St. Conrad’s fourteenth century life. St. Conrad and the Wildfire is one of my new favorites. It certainly deserved a place on any Catholic family’s bookshelf.
For more of my favorite Catholic picture books for Catholic children, check out this list!
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I am so excited to share with you Bonnie Way’s newest resource: Canadian Saints Kids Activity Book At over 100 pages, this book is chock full of activities to get your children excited about learning from the lives of six inspiring saints. The Canadian saints studied in this book include St. Andre Bessette, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Kateri Tekakawitha, and more.
Bios, Prompts, Activities
The section on each saint includes a short biography, questions to prompt internalizing the virtues the saint demonstrated, mazes, word finds, crosswords, quotes, coloring pages, journaling prompts, decoding, and more. My favorite part of each section was the “Be Like” the saint page. These sections do a phenomenal job urging the reader to reflect on aspects of the saint’s life in greater depth. For example, on the “Be like Saint Marie” page some of the reflections include:
St. Marie’s choices often went against what her friends and family thought she should do. Despite what others said about her or pressured her to do, Marie knew how God saw her and that she was doing God’s will. Are you too worried about what others think of you and your actions?
St. Marie desired to enter the convent at age 14, but didn’t until she was 32. This may have seemed wasted time, but Marie calls these years of working at her husband’s and then her brother-in-law’s businesses, “my novitiate, from which I did not emerge perfect but, through the mercy of God, at least in a state to bear the turmoil and labor of Canada.” If you also desire to do something, and God seems to be saying “not yet,” look for ways you can learn and grow in the tasks He is giving you now.
Canadian Saints Kids Activity Book, Bonnie Way
A must-have resource for Catholic families
This fun and educational activity book is a valuable resource for Catholic families. This book can easily be used as part of a homeschool curriculum, as a summer unit study, or a religion supplement for a catechism class. I plan on using it this summer with my almost 8 year old. I think 8-14 is the ideal audience, though of course every child is different!
Last year, I also reviewed North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book, also from Bonnie Way and Katherine Babcock. Both of these activity books are truly fantastic and makes it so easy for Catholic parents to get their kids excited and inspired as they learn about the saints. I hope the authors continue with an entire series of Saints Activity Books. I would love to see a volume of United States of America Saints and also one of South American Saints!
Each volume features a dozen saints, mostly well-known heroines of our faith like Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Kateri, Saint Agnes, and Saint Gianna. These books do not include dates or feast days, instead focusing on details about the saints’ lives that little ones are more likely to grasp and retain, such as family relationships, feeding the poor, and miracles. This makes these books great for a cursory introduction, but if you are looking for more in-depth information about the saints, consider the Life of a Saint series from Ignatius,or other saint biographies featured inMy Book Lists.
Each saint page concludes with an inspiring quote from each saint about following Jesus and living a strongly Christian life. For example, the quote from St. Claire of Assisi is: “Totally love Him, who gave Himself totally for your love.”
What makes these books shine are the beautiful original paintings for each saint which will capture the attention of young children. Each painting contains a special symbol the child can associate with the saint. Some symbols are the traditional ones, such as the lamb of Saint Agnes. Others are original, such as green seeds to show the seeds of faith Saint Kateri sowed in the New World.
There is also a brother book, Boy Saints for Little Ones. This book features a dozen inspiring male saints such as Saint Augustine, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Patrick.
A 2018 offering from reputable Sophia Institute Press, Saints Chronicles Collection 1 is obviously an attempt to make the stories of saints from ancient and modern times compelling to today’s tweens and teens, who often prefer graphic novels and comic books to traditional chapter books. This is the first volume of four collections that Sophia is publishing, all similar comic book style volumes of about 120 pages. Each collection contains the stories of about five saints. This first collection tells the stories of Saint Patrick, Saint Jerome Emiliani, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Henry Morse, and Saint Joan of Arc. Saints Chronicles Collection 2 relates the stories of Saint Nicholas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Brigid of Ireland, Saint Pachomius, and Saint Anne Line.
These collections are visually arresting and fast-paced. I appreciated the focus question at the beginning of each story which hints at the theme to carry away. Though the stories themselves are not heavy on details, each one concludes with a one page summary of the life of the saint with important dates and life events in a timeline format.
The selection of saints is a thoughtful blend of the well known Saint Patrick and Saint Francis of Assisi combined with the unknown Saint Henry Morse and Saint Anne Line. I do wish the publisher had picked a few saints from more recent times like Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto or Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Maybe in a later collection.
This collection is appropriate for children as young as 7 or 8 in most regards, though if you have a sensitive child be forewarned. The saints are often in mortal danger or actually die in the course of the story. However, the pictures are not gory or gratuitously violent at all. For example, Saint Henry Morse is last shown at the gallows about to be hung, but not after he is hung. Saint Joan of Arc is not shown burning at the stake; the book simply says she was.
I am not personally a huge fan of the comic book style, but I know it is very popular these days! Overall, I think most people, especially tweens and teens, will find Saints Chronicles Collection 1 to be an enjoyable, informative comic book. I imagine this volume and its sequels will capture the imaginations of many children who might otherwise find the lives of the saints dull and dreary.
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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.
Prince Martin Wins His Sword is the first in an exciting adventure series that follows Prince Martin as he learns virtues, slays dragons, and protects the innocent. Read my full review here!
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.
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.
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 because they instill a strong thirst for justice and interest in problem solving. Check out my full review of this series here!
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.
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If you have a range of ages in your children and still want to attempt a family read-aloud time, then it is best to select a book which is interesting enough for your older children, but not too intense for the younger ones. You can expect that under fives will need a quiet toy to play with while listening since the lack of illustrations in moat chapter books will leave them searching for visual stimulation. A series can be a fun choice to read as a family since it gives your children more investment in the characters.
The number one series I recommend for a family read aloud is Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Both you and your child will enjoy the adventures and misadventures of the four Walker children, responsible John, motherly Susan, dreamy Titty, and active Roger, and their friends wild Nancy, timid Peggy, bookish Dick, and his twin cheerful Dot. The Swallows and Amazons’ adventures take them all over England, out on the ocean, and even to China. Arthur Ransome’s fine writing and skill as a storyteller make the books in this series true classics. There are 12 books in the series, all wonderful, so plenty of hours of reading! Our favorites are Winter Holiday (Swallows & Amazons) and The Picts & the Martyrs (Swallows & Amazons) but really all the books are worth reading.
Another favorite series of mine is Catholic author Hilda Van Stockum’s wonderful Mitchell’s series, consisting of three books: The Mitchells: Five for Victory , Canadian Summer , and Friendly Gables . These books are about the five children of the Mitchell family growing up in World War II era America. Later, the family moves to Canada, which provides some nice exposure to Canadian culture. These books are memorable because the children are so very realistic. Your children will immediately connect to the Mitchells, with their dreams and disasters, as they grow both individually and as a family.
The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy are amazing books about a Hungarian family in the 1930’s. The first book describes how Jansci’s patient family gentles his wild young cousin Kate and also offers a lovely portrait of life, tradition, and cultures in Catholic Hungary. The second book is a bit more intense, describing the dark War years’ impact on the family farm and the children.
What better choice to read to a Catholic family then a book about saints? Mary Fabyan Windeatt‘s books are my favorite for this purpose. The language is simple enough for younger listeners, but the books also have solid content and details to engage older listeners. She wrote about a wide variety of saints so there are many choices!
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House series is an American family classic. Not only do these books provide a realistic historical portrait of pioneer life, they also offer many life lessons about hard work, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and perseverance. And of course they also provide an enjoyable story line. Girls will identify with these more than boys since all the books except Farmer Boy are about the Wilder girls, but boys can still enjoy these classic all-American stories.
Reminiscent of the Little House books, the Happy Little Family series chronicles episodes in the lives of an early American family, the Fairchilds. Beautifully written, with characters that jump off the page, these four books are very enjoyable read alouds with great lessons and vivid descriptions of nineteenth century life. For example, in a chapter of the first book, Happy Little Family , the father offers a special arrowhead for whichever of his children first shows true bravery. Stories like these provide great discussion themes: what is bravery or courage, are there different types of courage, how would your child act in the story, how could your child show courage in daily life?
All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels More All-Of-A-Kind Family and All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown are charming stories about a Jewish family living in New York City about 100 years ago. These stories about a family with 5 active, engaging young girls are sure to be favorites. They also provide good information about the different holidays and culture within a Jewish family.
Depending on your children’s ages and sensitivity limits, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia may be a good choice. These books are certainly more intense than the others on this list, so be advised that they may not be a good choice for younger, sensitive children, but slightly older children love these magical tales by a master story teller. The plethora of Christian symbolism and allegory makes these books a rich, thought-provoking read. If your family spends a lot of time driving, here is a wonderful audio version read by a full cast of actors: The Chronicles of Narnia Collector’s Edition (Radio Theatre).
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. These are not great classics of literature, but wholesome, simple, enjoyable books for if you are looking for a light read aloud. Check out my review here!
If your children are a bit earlier, say eight and older, they will love the Letzenstein Chronicles, which begin with The Crystal Snowstorm. Catholic author Meriol Trevor sets these adventurous stories about orphaned children in the fictional Catholic country of Letzenstein, a tiny European kingdom. These books have heroes and villains to please the adventurous souls. I find their portrayal of the lowly and childlike characters as integral and important both noteworthy and admirable.
For animal lovers, I can’t recommend Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series highly enough! Based on true events, these stories about two children’s hard work and love for horses is really inspiring. Don’t stop at the first book! Read more about Misty, Stormy, and other great horses in Marguerite Henry Stable of Classics.