THe Strength of Young People: A Review of ‘Secrets: Visible and Invisible’

” We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. we need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.” –Saint Pope John Paul II

Reading Level

Grades 7-12+

Review and Contents

I was so excited when this book first came out. First of all, I am a HUGE fan of the short story genre. It was my favorite thing to read in school and my favorite to teach to my freshmen in high school. Truly great writers can tell such a good story with only a few pages.

It’s also no secret that I’m a fan of Catholic fiction for young readers. Most YA literature is full of vices of the modern world. Sex, drugs, violence….the list goes on and on. It feels so safe to have Catholic writers compile good stories for teens to read.

Continue reading THe Strength of Young People: A Review of ‘Secrets: Visible and Invisible’

TREASURED MEMORIES: A REVIEW OF ‘NANA UPSTAIRS AND NANA DOWNSTAIRS’

“You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come.” – Psalm 71:17-18

Reading Level

3.4 AR [0.5 points]

Grade 3

Interest Level

Pre-K – Grade 2

Review and Comments

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs is a true story based on Tomie dePaola’s early life.  His close relationship with his grandmothers is very touching.  Besides the obvious love Tommy has for his grandmothers, he also experiences the sad reality of grief from their deaths, which may be difficult for sensitive children.  During his healing however, he begins to understand that the love of his grandmothers is never lost or forgotten.  It will always be a cherished memory in his heart. 

Continue reading TREASURED MEMORIES: A REVIEW OF ‘NANA UPSTAIRS AND NANA DOWNSTAIRS’

40 Books for the Forty Days of Lent

Lent is not my favorite season. There. I said it out loud. It’s a rough one for me, but I’m making a serious effort NOT to pass my ‘bad attitude’ towards this holy time down to my children.

I’ve looked for ways to teach my young kids about their relationship with God and helping others and making sacrifices during the Lenten season. Each year I work to try new things and see what works and what doesn’t. (Let’s be real, there’s been a lot that hasn’t worked!) Last year we did the Jesus Tree from Nancy over at Catholic Sprouts. My kids LOVED it! (You can buy it here.) So we are planning to do it again this year. And I have a few new ideas up my sleeve. (Backyard stations of the cross? We shall see!)

But as you all know, I love books. There’s no better way to teach kids than by curling up with them to read a book. Most holidays and seasons are FULL of book lists, but Lent is one that doesn’t have quite so many options.

This is why I’ve put this list together! Consider it my Lenten offering to you. I’ve tried to give as many options as possible. One for each day of Lent if necessary! This list is full of prayer books, reflection books, beautiful picture books, religious stories retold, Catholic fiction stories, stories of sacrifice, and stories of giving to others.

So, this Lent, find some books that might work for you and your family and have blessed, beautiful, and holy Lent!

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Books of Prayer/Reflection for Children

Continue reading 40 Books for the Forty Days of Lent

The Fruits of labor: Review of ‘Ox-cart man’

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Reading Level 

Grade 3

AR 4.5 (0.5 points)

Interest Level  

 K – 3

Review and Comments

Ox-Cart man is the father of a very industrious family. Their story is a wonderful lesson about the hard work required in early nineteenth century America.  It is definitely an instructive glimpse at the important jobs the family had to accomplish over the course of an entire year.

The lesson begins in October when the family loads all the products they have made from their farm’s resources into a cart pulled by an ox.  Products such as: wool and linen, brooms, fruit and vegetables, candles, honey, and even goose feathers are carefully packed for the trip to the market.

Continue reading The Fruits of labor: Review of ‘Ox-cart man’

Love From One Generation to the Next: A Review of ‘Being a Grandparent, Just Like Being a Parent…Only Different’

“The crown of the aged is their children’s children….” – Proverbs 17:6

“Love multiplies.  It doesn’t divide.” – Dr. Ray Guarendi

Review and Comments:

Dr. Ray’s book, Being a Grandparent, is a wonderful resource for those who are seeking advice and direction while adapting to the role of being a grandparent. It’s also a good choice for anyone who just wants to see if they are “on the right track.”  Dr. Ray addresses many issues and recommends very practical solutions along with considerable wisdom and a good bit of humor.

I think most people will agree that being a grandparent is a huge blessing! That doesn’t mean the road is always smooth, however.  Problems arise, goals differ, and personalities and egos clash.  This book is organized into short chapters – each one addressing a concern from differing viewpoints. Dr. Ray then skillfully addresses each concern.  He poses thoughtful questions, makes astute statements, and sometimes gives examples from his own family. Continue reading Love From One Generation to the Next: A Review of ‘Being a Grandparent, Just Like Being a Parent…Only Different’

A Review of ‘Prayer Everywhere: The Spiritual Life Made Simple

“The Lord cannot be at work in me if I am only allowing him the time I spend doing pious or prayerful things.  I must open the whole of my life to Christ and intentionally make him a vital part of everything I do.”–Father Gary Caster

Reading Level

Grades 11+

Review and Comments

I’ll be honest, after having kids I have found prayer difficult.  I find little time to myself and am constantly interrupted.  I even have trouble making it through a rosary without falling asleep!  Then, as an attempt to make up for my distraction/frustration/exhaustion, I try to find a new devotion/method/motivation to kick myself back in gear.  Slowly I see myself becoming a Martha and less of a Mary and the downward spiral continues.

Enter Father Gary Caster’s book, Prayer Everywhere (which was obviously sent to me by the Holy Spirit).  Through his simple suggestions and wonderfully entertaining anecdotes, I was reminded about the simplicity of prayer which I’d forgotten.  Devotions aside, prayer is ultimately about our relationship with Jesus and it need not be complicated. Continue reading A Review of ‘Prayer Everywhere: The Spiritual Life Made Simple

An Idea Put to the Test: A Review of ‘Frindle’

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.” – Emily Dickinson

Reading Level

Grades 3-5, 6-8 [Scholastic]

AR 5.4 [2 points]

Interest Level

Grades 4-8

Review and Comments

This story is about Nicholas Allen’s successful campaign to use his newly invented word, frindle.

Nick has a reputation for having very creative, original ideas – ideas that often push the limits of his teachers’ patience.  Children, on the other hand, seem drawn to his plans.  One of his fool proof ideas is the “teacher-stopper.”  So, Nick tests his new fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Granger, with his tried and true routine of asking a question to take up class time. This plan never fails. He asks, “Why do words mean what they mean?”  She explains that “a word means something because he, Nick, says it does.”  Now that is food for thought.  So, when he finds a pen on the way home from school, he decides to call it a different name.  He calls it a frindle.  And that simple decision begins Nick’s greatest scheme.  He decides to call a pen a frindle while at home, at school, and he even asks his friends to join him. Continue reading An Idea Put to the Test: A Review of ‘Frindle’

Only the Truth: A Review of ‘The Empty Pot’

 “To be honest as this world goes is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” —William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Reading Level

AR 3.8 [0.5 points]

3.0-3.9 ATOS Book Level [ATOS readability formula represents the difficulty of the text]

Interest Level

Pre-K – Grade 5

Review and Comments

The Empty Pot is an inspirational Chinese folk tale about honesty and honor, bravely demonstrated by a little boy named Ping.

The Emperor is getting older and realizes he must find someone to take his place – someone who will be an honorable leader.  Since he has no children, he looks to all the children in his kingdom to find that one exceptional child.  His plan will surely reveal someone who is worthy.  He invites all the children of his kingdom to his palace and gives each child flower seeds to plant and nurture for the next year.  Then, they are to return and present their best flowers to the Emperor, and he will make his decision. Continue reading Only the Truth: A Review of ‘The Empty Pot’

The Earth Provides: A Review of ‘How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World’

“God created the universe in such a manner that all in common might derive their food from it, and that the Earth should also be a property common to all.” – St. Ambrose

Reading Level

AR 3.1 [0.5 points]

Interest Level

Pre-K – Grade 2

Review and Comments

A plan to make an apple pie seems rather straightforward.   After all, it’s only a matter of following a few important steps beginning with a trip to the grocery store. If the store is closed, however, how does one get all the necessary ingredients?  Well, you just travel around the world and gather the best and freshest items on your list. And a bonus to the trip is the experience of traveling on different modes of transportation from a steamer to a parachute.  The shopping list takes the reader to Italy for semolina, France for the best possible eggs, Sri Lanka for the amazing spice of cinnamon, England for the freshest milk, Jamaica for sweet sugar cane, and crisp apples from Vermont. Continue reading The Earth Provides: A Review of ‘How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World’

A Complicated War: A Review of ‘A Long Walk to Water’

“I didn’t understand this complicated war, how it mortally devoured the land and left it so full of skeletons.”– Benson Deng, They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky 

Reading Levels

Interest Level: 6-9

Reading Level: 3-8

Review and Comments

When I was teaching high school, I taught the book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky.  This was my first real introduction to the Lost Boys and the war in Sudan.  I’d heard mention of it on the news and in conversation, but had no real personal connection.  You see, I live half-way around the world, and at the time it had  no real significance to my day-to-day life.  But this is the beauty of what books can do.  When I read They Poured Fire… I was given a personal, first-hand account of the absolute horrors of the war that occurred and the devastation of the people (mostly young boys) who were left behind.  The book gave me insight, connection, and a desire to help, to know more, and to be more aware…more prayerful…for the people suffering every day in other parts of the world.  Books can make that happen, they connect history and news to our hearts and help us see the pain and suffering of others. Continue reading A Complicated War: A Review of ‘A Long Walk to Water’

Literature reviews from the Catholic side