Two Inches of Determination: A Review of ‘Stuart Little’

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”–J.R.R. Tolkein

 

Reading Level

AR 6.0 [3.0 points]

4.25 [Leveled Books Database]

Interest Level  

Grades 3-5 [Scholastic]

Review and Comment

E.B. White’s classic tale Stuart Little is about an extraordinary, diminutive mouse. Stuart has a tenacious spirit that emboldens him to confront all the challenges a two-inch mouse naturally faces and some very surprising adventures.

Stuart’s human family loves and accepts every inch of him.  His size allows him to help his family in a number of ways.  He is able to recover stray ping pong balls that roll under the furniture, assist with a sticking piano key from inside the piano, and he even recovers his mother’s ring that accidentally goes down the drain.  Of course his size naturally presents challenges as well.  Simply washing up in the morning is impossible without improvising some clever devices.  One day he is unintentionally closed up in the refrigerator for a time because no one notices him. Then there is Margalo, the family cat, that instigates other problems and complicates a few serious episodes for Stuart, but he seems to patiently deal with some of these issues.  He is so adventurous he has no problem leaving the house and facing the world. He even participates in and wins an exciting boat race in Central Park.

Stuart’s last adventure is a mixture of loyal friendship, secrets, danger, and new beginnings.  Soon after his time in the refrigerator, the family finds a very sick bird named Margalo and nurses her back to health.  She and Stuart become wonderful friends.  She even saves Stuart’s life when he is accidentally picked up by the garbage man and almost dumped into the East River.  It does not take long for Stuart to begin to see Snowball as a threat to Margalo’s safety.  One night he actually saves her life from the cat.  Then Margalo is told about a conversation between Snowball and another cat and their scheme to harm her.  She decides the best plan is to leave, and so she does.  Stuart is heartbroken and decides to abandon the life he knows with his loving family and find her – quite a feat for such a small mouse.  While constantly traveling north, Stuart encounters helpful people and experiences new situations.  His determination does not waver even though he realizes the chances of finding Margalo are nearly impossible.  The story ends with Stuart continuing his quest because the journey’s experiences are just as important to him as the goal of finding his dear friend.

Through all of Stuart’s adventures, he definitely does not let his size or the world stop him.  He is loyal to his family and Margalo and friendly and open to everyone he meets. Stuart willingly embraces novelty and the promise of future experiences unfolding naturally.

His many adventures are interesting, but personally I cannot get past the idea that a mouse is born to a human family even though I know this is fiction.

Possible Concerns

[The Little family is unusual, but everyone seems to take it in stride.] A woman named Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son was a mouse.

[A man talked to Stuart in Central Park about a boat race.]  “That’s her, Lillian B. Womrath,” said the man, “and I hate her with all my heart.”

Further Discussion

  • The article “Reading to Kids” includes discussion topics for this book before, during, and after reading and it also includes two craft ideas. You can read it here.

 

  • Make a diorama of a scene from the book. [Examples:  the inside of the refrigerator,  the sailboat race or sailing the canoe, Margalo sitting in the fern and Snowball spying on her, or driving through the countryside]

 

  • Map work: Locate New York City and the East River.

 

  • Make a comparison chart. Stuart lives in an urban setting but searches for Margalo in a rural area.  Divide a chart in half.  Label one column Urban and the other Rural. Find pictures of urban and rural areas and glue the pictures under the correct headings.

 

Catholic Resources

 

  • Stuart definitely looks different. This excerpt from an examination of conscience helps children reflect on how they treat others.
  1. You shall not kill.
    Do I beat up others or hurt their bodies?
    Do I say cruel things, or make fun of others to hurt their feelings?

Are there kids I will not play with or be mean to because they look different?

Do I say mean things about others behind their backs?
Have I stopped speaking to anyone?
Do I encourage others to do bad things?
Do I try to love all people, born and unborn?

 

  • Saints who faced hardships with determination:

Saint Patrick

Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys

Saint Therese de Lisieux

Saint Josephine Bakhita

Saint Martin de Porres

Saint Monica

Saint Francis de Sales

 

  • Stuart was a faithful friend to Margalo. Bible quotes about loyalty.

Do not let love and fidelity forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. – Proverbs 3:3-4

A friend is a friend at all times, and a brother is born for the time of adversity. – Proverbs 17:17

 

 

 

Peace for a Mother’s Mind: A Review of ‘Good Enough is Good Enough: Confessions of an Imperfect Catholic Mom’

“If Jesus didn’t expect perfection from His people and if he accepted them for who they were, warts and all, perhaps I should dial down my own expectations for my family. Jesus chose to hang out with the likes of Peter and Judas on the evening before He saved the world from sin. He invited them to be part of his salvific plan, so why do I worry so much about my own family’s idiosyncrasies? Jesus handpicked a handful of very imperfect people who messed up a lot, just like I do and just like my family does.”–Colleen Duggan

Review and Comments

What a blessing this book was!  I have to tell you, it was perfect timing for this mom filled with all kinds of emotions in this season of my life.  I seem to constantly stress over a constantly messy house and piles of laundry.  I worry about my first child who is entering kindergarten next year and thus begins to spend more time away from my protective grasp. I continually look at the divisiveness of the world and wonder where my children will end up as adults.  Luckily, Colleen Duggan has offered me so much consolation in her book and reminded me of what is really important when raising children: that I do my best to bring them to God, and allow Him to do the rest. Continue reading Peace for a Mother’s Mind: A Review of ‘Good Enough is Good Enough: Confessions of an Imperfect Catholic Mom’

Nothing is Hopeless: A Review of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

“All darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of one single candle.”  – St.  Francis of Assisi

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” – Mrs. Whatsit from A Wrinkle in Time

 

Reading level    

Grades 3-8

AR 4.7

Interest level     

Grades 5-9

Review and Comments

A Wrinkle in Time is an absolutely captivating and complex adventure.   The peculiar and diverse characters and their incredible experiences will prompt quite a range of emotions for the reader:  empathy, anger, sadness, wonder, confusion, fear, and finally joy.

The story centers on a young girl named Meg Murry.  Her background story is difficult and at times even harsh.  The emptiness and yearning for her mysteriously missing father is compounded by conflicts at school and her self-esteem.  It has been a very long year wondering where her father is and if he will ever return.  Her mother, also a scientist like her husband, is trying to hold the family together while researching her husband’s disappearance and continuing the tesseract research they started. Meg has three brothers, but her relationship with her younger brother, Charles, is very special.  He is a unique boy with exceptional gifts that are revealed as the story progresses. Charles and Meg become friends with a lonely boy named Calvin O’Keefe. Calvin finally feels he belongs somewhere after he meets them and becomes their constant and faithful companion. Charles also introduces Meg to three curious characters named Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who. These three know it is time to help “a very good man who needs help.”  And so the partnership to save Meg’s father begins. Continue reading Nothing is Hopeless: A Review of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

A Boy and His Dog: A Review of ‘The Boy Who Ate Dog Biscuits’

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”–Charles Schulz

Reading Level   

AR 2.6

Grades 3-5 [Scholastic]

Interest Level

Ages 6-9

Review and Comments

“A boy and his dog make a glorious pair: No better friendship is found anywhere.”  And that is why Billy Getten yearns for a dog of his own.  He wants that special relationship.  The problem is that Billy and his parents have different ideas about the whole ownership plan.  Billy tries to convince his parents he would be a “better Billy” if he owned a dog, but his parents want to see a better Billy before he owns a dog.  It is a tough argument.  Then things get a bit more complicated when Billy’s friend, Howard, accuses him of initiating a plan that endangers his little brother. Billy feels betrayed and cannot convince his parents he isn’t guilty.  The consequences of this episode with Howard push dog ownership even further in the future.  His allowance is taken away and that means he cannot afford to buy the dog treats he needs when training six stray dogs at the vet’s or nibble on his favorite snack! Billy faithfully continues his work with the dogs sans dog biscuits.  Then he meets a beautiful stray and their connection is immediate and undeniable.  He secretly hopes that this particular dog will one day be his. Continue reading A Boy and His Dog: A Review of ‘The Boy Who Ate Dog Biscuits’

Oh, life….

Have you ever just sat there overwhelmed with everything going on?!  Well, that’s been me the last few months.

New surprises.

Lots of illness.

Catching up on things I’ve procrastinated on.

Just…life.

Needless to say there haven’t been many reviews and there’s been little action on our Facebook page.  BUT things are falling back in place (for the time being) and so I hope to be able to get things going on the blog once again.

New reviews.

New books.

Happy kids and parents reading books.

Hopefully you’ll stick with us as we pick it back up again!  Thanks for supporting us!

Fill Us With Joy: A Review of ‘The Most Beautiful Christmas Story’

 “And in the end, everything else will turn out to be unimportant and inessential; except for this: Father, Child, and Love.” – Pope Saint John Paul II

Interest Level

3 years+

Review and Comments

The Most Beautiful Christmas Story is a wonderful book for young children about Jesus’ birth beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Holy Family in Nazareth after their time in Egypt.  I was struck by two things while reading this book.  First, the large illustrations, each covering two pages, are filled with wonderful details that truly enhance the story. The second thing that stands out for me is the words and phrases interwoven throughout the story that express the miracle of Christmas.   The first sentence proclaims beautifully that “God sent the Angel Gabriel…”  What a wonderful way to introduce the story of God’s amazing plan.  Then, Mary waits for the Savior with hope,  St. Joseph tenderly whispers to Jesus that their hearts are full of love, the shepherds are filled with peace and joy, the Wise Men feel the light of the star as a sign, and when the Holy Family travels to Egypt, Mary declares that God is with us.  All of these expressions of God’s beautiful love truly convey the Christmas message. Continue reading Fill Us With Joy: A Review of ‘The Most Beautiful Christmas Story’

Pray and Hope: A Review of ‘Padre Pio: Saint Pius of Pietrelcina’

“Pray and hope.  God is merciful and He will hear your prayer.”–Padre Pio

Reading Level:

To be read with children at 5 years old.  To be read independently at 8 years and up.

Review and Comments:

As All Saint’s Day approaches, we are reminded of the great opportunity to learn about all of the holy men and women who have modeled their lives after Christ and show us the amazing possibilities in store when we do the same.  The really amazing part is that there are all different kinds of saints.  Saints who lived quietly, saints who were martyred, and saints who fought in wars are all with Jesus.  They simply listened to His call.

My hope is that my young children will find friends in the saints as I did growing up.  This is why I am so glad to have found the CTS Children’s Book series on saints for kids. Continue reading Pray and Hope: A Review of ‘Padre Pio: Saint Pius of Pietrelcina’

Building a True Domestic Church: A Review of ‘Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Children’

“Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith.”–Pope Francis

Review and Comments

This is the second book I have read by Greg and Lisa Popcak and I am once again in love!  After spending so much time reading parenting advice from every online article and opinion piece someone writes on their blog, I have found something I can get behind and learn from.

The Popcaks begin with a lot of statistics and research that indicate the difference between parenting and “Catholic” parenting to help lay the foundation for why we should listen to their advice.   They explain the difference between punishment and discipline and the effect that can have on children (and there is a difference!).  It provides numerous examples of children who were raised through “punishment” and how, as adults, they became great rule-followers, but not empathetic caring people.  These people often followed the rules to their own detriment and the detriment of others.  After reading this intro, though it was very long, I was convinced that they had done their research and were going to give some great advice.  Continue reading Building a True Domestic Church: A Review of ‘Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Children’

A Possibility for Something Good: A Review of ‘What Do You Do With a Problem?’

“It is not that they cannot see the solution.  It is they cannot see the problem.”  – G. K. Chesterton

Reading Level   

P – Grade 3

Review and Comments

What to do with a problem?  Now that is a dilemma we have all encountered.  The little boy in this story faces a problem he absolutely does not want.  His problem is not specifically defined, but it is extremely unsettling to him.  As the story unfolds his questions and emotional responses together with the expressive illustrations show how small he feels while confronting his ever-expanding problem.

When the boy first becomes aware of the problem, he immediately wants nothing to do with it.  He does everything he can to make it go away.  He even tries to ignore it but that does not help at all.  It first appears as a small cloud above his head and then begins to expand until “it looked as if it would swallow him up.”  And at the peak of his distress, the cloud is swirling around him. Continue reading A Possibility for Something Good: A Review of ‘What Do You Do With a Problem?’

Redemption Through Suffering: A Review of ‘Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy’

“Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God.”–St. Gianna Molla

Reading Level:

Grade 11+

Review and Comments:

I’ve always been fascinated by the lives of the saints.  Their ability to see God through suffering, their bravery in evangelization, their relationship to Jesus and His mother, and their willingness to face death and persecution for Him are awe=inspiring.  As a cradle Catholic, I have read many of their stories and wished to be closer to them and learn more about them.  They have been the celebrities I have looked up to, and though my favorite saint has changed with my season of life, I have found that often I feel as though their stories are unrealistic in this day and age.  I can’t see myself being like them and I feel that their virtue is unattainable.

It is for this reason I enjoy reading about more modern people who may not be saints (yet) but nevertheless they have lived holy and virtuous lives.  A few years ago I read about Immaculee Ilibagiza and her suffering through the Rwandan genocide.  Her joy and faith  amidst terrible suffering have been a beautiful witness of God’s forgiveness and love for those involved.  She became someone I aspired to be for a long time, but her suffering was extreme, and often times I could not fully relate.  (You can read more about her here.)  

My newest role model is Chiara Corbella Petrillo. I saw Chiara’s story make the rounds in the Catholic blogosphere a year or so ago.  I read a bit about her and thought it was a sad story, but moved on as people do when they read something online.  Then her book popped up as a recommendation for me.  I couldn’t put it down. Continue reading Redemption Through Suffering: A Review of ‘Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy’

Literature reviews from the Catholic side