New from Pauline Kids: Books for Easter Baskets

Do you like to make the Easter basket about more than just the chocolate? Four new books from Pauline Kids will make excellent additions to your child’s Easter basket this year.

Jesus our saviorJesus Our Savior: the story of God’s Son for children by Patricia Szczebak is an adaptation of Bible stories about Jesus. Written for independent readers in second grade and up, it would make a great read-aloud for children as young as age four. Most chapters are about three pages long, so this book is perfectly formatted for bedtime reading with your children, a chapter or two each night. This Bible storybook is faithful to Gospel accounts, adding only a bit of historical detail (such as a simple explanation of leprosy) to help young readers understand the stories better.

our blessed motherOur Blessed Mother: the story of Mary for children by Marilyn Evangelina Monge, FSP, is from the same series as Jesus Our Savior. This book is divided into two parts: The Life of Mary and Mary Leads Us to Jesus, which covers the Marian apparitions at Carmel, Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and a quick how-to on praying the Rosary. The book begins with a good explanation about how we honor Mary but do not worship her, and also that we get some of the stories of Mary from Tradition.

life of jesus graphic novelThe Life of Jesus is a graphic novel by Ben Alex, illustrated by José Pérez Montero. This book brings the Gospel stories to life in a different way; more and more kids ages 10 and up are very into the graphic-novel format, so this will appeal to them without boiling down the message. The narrative is very action-oriented but does not leave out the numerous occasions in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself to pray. At the bottom of each page, you’ll find the Scripture reference for the story depicted there. I’d recommend this for tweens, teens, and Confirmandi.

divine mercy in my pocketDivine Mercy in my pocket by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP,  is a small booklet, about 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, that helps kids learn to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In addition to the prayer instruction, the first half of the booklet contains a short biography of Saint Faustina, as well as some information on the meaning of the prayers and how and why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The rest of the booklet is titled “How Can I Share Mercy with Others?” and discusses the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in language children can understand. Paired with a Rosary, it would make an excellent First Communion gift idea.

Tuck one (or more) of these books into your child’s Easter basket this year — right next to the chocolate bunny.

Pauline Books for Easter Baskets

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.


On Barb’s Bookshelf: Ways to Keep Teens’ Faith Alive

Keeping Teens' Faith Alive

When you’ve invested over a decade in raising your child, you discover that as he enters his teen years, the way you need to nurture his faith changes drastically. This is the time when your child needs to begin to take over his own faith development, but it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook — or unnecessary.

Ignatius Press has released two books to help parents and teens in this stage: The Light Entrusted to You, for parents, and Humility Rules, for teens (though parents shouldn’t skip this one).

light entrusted to you

John R. Wood’s The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive is a parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging.

Christ is our model. After His baptism He does not go to the beach to drink a piña colada. He goes to the desert to fast and do battle with the devil (see Mt 4). We must follow His lead and also teach our children to “do battle”. Much of our time parenting is simply training our children to overcome concupiscence, the tendency to do wrong because of original sin. It should be obvious that children often desire to do and have things that are not good for them. Imagine if we simply let our children do everything they wanted to do. They would probably end up either dead or in prison very early in life. We strive to teach them to live lives of virtue, and we all know it is a long journey that each of us continues his entire life. (25)

From the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to the great cathedrals to a synopsis of Old Testament events, Wood invites readers to dive deep into the deposit of the faith and nurture their own souls so that they can inspire their children.

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While you’re reading Wood’s book, hand Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem to your teen or college student. Author J. Augustine Wetta, OSB, does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Genuine self-esteem is a form of holiness, and holiness, in Saint Benedict’s eyes, is not about self-love but self-abandonment. In fact, the whole idea of holding yourself in high esteem would sound ridiculous to him. It would defeat the very purpose of the Christian life, which is to empty one’s self in order to make room for God’s grace. (18-19)

Wetta distills, from the Rule of Saint Benedict, 12 steps along the ladder of humility, and challenges his readers to climb that ladder.

Humility Rules would make an excellent Confirmation or graduation gift.

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.
I received review copies of these books, but no compensation, for my review. Opinions expressed here are my own.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: What’s New for Lent

Making Room in Lent

Two new books from Ave Maria Press invite readers to open their hearts to God and set themselves free from sin and its trappings.

Lenten Healing: 40 Days to Set You Free From Sin is a do-it-yourself retreat that focuses not only on sin, but on the virtues that will have room in our lives if we free ourselves from sin. Author Ken Kniepmann begins each day’s entry with the line, “Today, I choose to fast from the sin (or wound) of _____.” The exception is each Sunday, when the entry focuses on feasting on virtues. Filled with relatable, concrete examples of the faces of sin in our lives, Scripture passages and questions for meditation (keep a journal handy!),  and short prayers, this book is a gateway for readers to confront — and weed out — those sinful actions and tendencies that keep us far from God.

Each week, after Friday’s entry, there’s a prayer meditation on the sin and the wound that has been the focus of each week. This is my favorite part of the book; I recommend that you bring this book to Adoration, along with a journal, to work through that section of each week’s chapter. The Sunday emphasis on the virtue that is the opposite of the sin you’ve been considering all week is a refreshing and uplifting opportunity to focus on how we can change our lives for good during Lent.

lenten healing


Some decluttering books are written by people who act like they have it all together. Those books are not for me. In Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, Mary Elizabeth Sperry readily admits that she has a lot of work to do, and that her home is not perfectly neat and tidy all the time. I like the connections made between homemaking and the spiritual life. This book addresses necessary topics like spiritual discipline, reconciliation, prayer, and materialism. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where the author draws parallels between clutter and sin. This book spoke to me so much, I’ve got whole paragraphs underlined, never mind the circles and arrows …

making room for God

Why is this a book for Lent? While it isn’t designated as one, I can’t help but think its early-February release is providentially timed. In Lent, we seek to reform our hearts. This book is not full of tips and tricks for cleaning out that kitchen-gadget drawer or keeping your linen closet tidy. Instead, it’s an invitation to look at your relationship with your stuff — not just the stuff you have now, but the stuff you may acquire later. Its focus on generosity, the common good, and prayer make it an excellent Lenten read: by Easter, you’ll be thinking about the way you live a whole lot differently.

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Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Best of All Gifts

I’m all about the Christmas novel (and novella). Follow me on Goodreads in the fall and winter and you’ll see that a big chunk of my fiction reading falls straight into the holiday-read category. There’s no shame in that; these are light reads, with sweet stories that pair perfectly with a white-chocolate mocha, fuzzy socks and a warm blanket.

Two Thanksgivings ago, I read Sheila Cronin’s The Gift Counselor, a perfect Christmastime read. In that story, we meet Jonquil, a young widowed mom who has carved out a unique job as a department-store gift counselor. She helps customers examine their motivation for the gifts they give, while advising them on good gift choices. Jonquil uses data gathered at work for her thesis so she can complete an advanced degree.

best of all gifts

Jonquil’s story continues in Best of All Gifts, which is just the right novel to enjoy now — at Thanksgiving time. Jonquil’s work nemesis is assigned to be her assistant, her new thesis advisor seems to have it in for her (and she’s inexplicably attracted to him), and the father who disappeared when she was eight years old resurfaces. And there’s more: Jonquil’s son has a very scary health crisis and she just isn’t sure that Claude, the contractor she began dating in the first book, really wants to marry her. And Thanksgiving is coming.

My favorite character from The Gift Counselor, Rita, doesn’t get very much face time in this story, but we do get to meet Jonquil’s grandmother, who is lovable and wise.

Grab a cup of tea and a slice of pumpkin pie and savor this well-told story. You’ll love Best of All Gifts.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Catholic Fun from Ave Maria Press

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Celebrate the fun of being Catholic with two clever offerings from Ave Maria Press.

Tommy Tighe’s Catholic Hipster Handbook reminded me of what I love about handbooks.

True confession: when I was in high school, The Preppy Handbook came out. My high school was preppy long before Lisa Birnbach told the rest of us how to imitate the real deal, complete with detailed drawings of what to wear for all occasions. I studied that book relentlessly, though it was clear from the subtext that as alligator-logo shirts and Weejuns weren’t in my budget, I wasn’t worthy to be among those who were to the manor born.

The Catholic Hipster Handbook is packed with plenty of Catholic inside baseball without making the reader feel unworthy. This book won’t teach you how to be a cool Catholic. Instead, it revels in what’s cool about being Catholic and invites the reader to revel in it too.

Tommy Tighe gathered together 15 cool Catholics, many of whom you’ll find speaking and tweeting and writing and hosting Catholic radio shows, to help put this handbook together. One of my favorite essays was Tommy’s own “Take a fresh look at that rosary” which encouraged readers to explore other forms of the rosary and chaplets. I’d add the Franciscan Crown to Tommy’s list of rosary-based prayer alternatives. Lisa Hendey details the must-have apps: I love the way she uses Evernote! And Anna Mitchell’s essay on the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) is excellent as well. And and and …

This isn’t a book you need to read start-to-finish. Skip around. Open at random. The only thing this book doesn’t have (that I wish it did) is a detailed table of contents that includes the title of each essay. In a book of this nature, that would have been very helpful.

Who should read it: anyone who’s into history, trivia, and great stories — and who possesses a healthy sense of humor.

Speaking of trivia, reading The Catholic Hipster Handbook will prove very handy when you open up Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers. (It’s not cheating if you read the Handbook before you do the puzzles! It’s priming your brain!)

Matt Swaim included puzzles of all kinds in Catholic Puzzles. If crosswords aren’t your thing, there are plenty of anagrams, code scrambles, word-link puzzles, and more. Do you like a challenge? Try the word search with missing vowels.

Some of the puzzles are quick to complete, like “Misspelled Books of the Bible” (of course I did this one first!) and “Scrambled Partner Saints.” Others, such as “Alphabet Fill-Ins,” will take a while.

When you’ve filled in all the blanks in Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers, you’ll be relieved to note that there’s a Volume 2 with even more Catholic-puzzle fun.

Who will love it: teachers, youth-group leaders, and anyone who enjoys puzzles! Pair it with a pack of mechanical pencils for a terrific gift.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Forgiving Mother

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Born of a mother-daughter relationship that goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (new from Servant Books) speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past.

forgiving mother

I need to state right up front that I have a good relationship with my own mom. But this book about healing touched me deeply — because there are relationships in my life that have been difficult and hurtful, and I’ve hung onto those hurts for too long.

Citing the Gospel story where Jesus heals the blind, crippled man at the Sheep’s Gate (John 5: 2-9), Marge shares this thought that anyone who’s holding onto old hurts can relate to:

Do you want to be made well? Believe it or not, for a very long time, my answer to that question was no. I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, so I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. (Chapter 1)

Healing is hard. It takes work. Jesus isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. We have to want it, and we have to work for it.

Marge’s experience of healing hinged on developing her relationship with the Blessed Mother, noting that

God decides and provides the means by which you eventually can let go of the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope and confidence. There are two keys to attaining this: trust in God and love of Mary. … Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer; he will mend your wounds and restore you to health and vibrancy. Mother Mary will nurture and protect you. In her tender, loving way, she will accompany you each step of the way. She is, and wants to be in every way possible, truly your mother. … [Mary] is anxious to fill the void that has been left in you. She hears—has heard and will hear—your cries of distress, and she anxiously waits to answer them. (Chapter 9)

Marge’s book is a primer on forgiveness. It’s not easy to forgive, especially those hurts we know we’ll never be able to forget. Quoting St. John of the Cross, she notes in Chapter 3 that “the devil can use our memories to gain influence over our souls.”

Healing our hearts, healing our memories, healing our relationships (when possible) is at the heart of this book and the novena prayers accompanying it. The titles of the novena prayers speak to the essence of this book:
Day 1: Lord, give me the grace to want to heal
Day 2: Mary, let me grow closer to you
Day 3: Mary, help me look back
Day 4: Mary, let me see myself as a child of God
Day 5: Mary, let me see my mother as a child of God
Day 6: Mary, let me be transformed in the Spirit
Day 7: Mary, draw me into your heart
Day 8: Mary, let me grow
Day 9: Mary, let me be healed

Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Forgiving Mother is not easy to read. The prayers are not easy to pray — but God’s mercy, freely given, becomes easier to accept as healing begins.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book via Netgalley, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Other Side of Freedom

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Cynthia T. Toney’s historical novel for teens, The Other Side of Freedom, shows the seamy side of Prohibition-era organized crime from the perspective of a young man whose family becomes its unwitting victims. Finally — good historical fiction that will appeal to male and female readers alike.

other side of freedom

In 1920s Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle?

Sal and his best friend Antonina take great risks to uncover the mystery surrounding the crime ring. Aided by Hiram, a young African-American farmhand who faces further obstacles caused by the segregation of the time, Sal and Antonina refuse to be intimidated by the crime ring, even after it becomes evident that the criminals are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.

One detail in this novel that particularly fascinated me was the presence of Italian immigrants in Louisiana during this time period. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my own community had a large influx of immigrants from Italy in the early twentieth century. In fact, a local Italian-American family (only two blocks from where I would later live) provided their home as the center of a labor dispute in 1913. I did not know that besides settling in the Northeast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), Italian immigrants also settled in Minnesota, Louisiana, Indiana and California, according to the map found at Italian Immigration to America.

I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. The Other Side of Freedom is highly recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. This would make a terrific classroom read or summer-reading option.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Franciscan Saints

In the month when we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (which is actually a solemnity if you’re a professed Franciscan), it’s only fitting to read about some notable figures among his followers. There’s a long list of official Franciscan saints, but author Robert Ellsburg did not limit the selection to canonized saints in his new book The Franciscan Saints (Franciscan Media, 2017).

Franciscan saints

I discovered quite a few surprises in the table of contents, noting that the foundresses of several religious orders of women in the nineteenth century were listed: sisters from some of these orders educated members of my own extended family. And once I saw that the table of contents was organized chronologically (by year of death) I immediately went to the back of the book to discover more about contemporary Franciscans notable for their heroic virtue.

Father Mychal Judge, OFM, was listed, of course. The first certified victim of 9/11 died as he ministered to others dying after the attack on the World Trade Center. Judge, like a few of the other figures who died since 2000, has not had his cause for sainthood advanced enough (yet) to be referred to as “Servant of God,” an early step in the canonization process.

Learn more about the process of canonization in this video from Busted Halo:

I was also surprised to learn that St. Roch, to whom many members of my family have had a particular devotion, was a Franciscan. (I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by that; for over 100 years my family attended a parish staffed by Franciscan Friars.) My grandmother had a relic of St. Roch — the first holy relic I had ever seen.

The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes.

This book will be useful when members of my Secular Franciscan fraternity choose patron saints at the beginning of the year. We’ll have quite a few new names to choose from and new saints to get to know.

Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint).

I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. If you like to learn about saints and you’re particularly interested in Franciscans, The Franciscan Saints is an excellent starting point.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Ignite

Barb's Book shelf blog titleSubtitled “Read the Bible like never before,” Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Silvers’ book Ignite (Servant Books, 2017) challenges both individuals and groups to try a reading the Bible.

Acknowledging that many faithful people try reading the Bible but are daunted by dry and difficult readings and commentaries, Sonja and Deacon Harold share some strategies that work for them, setting up a Lectio-Divina-based study structure that can include technological resources such as Bible apps, online daily readings, and print or audio resources. They specifically suggest that readers begin with the Gospel reading for the day, which is always available at (simply use the calendar in the right sidebar to navigate to that day’s readings).


After describing the process of Lectio Divina, address the who, what, where, when, how, and why of the Bible, in separate chapters that go into detail about how the events of the Bible speak to us today.

In encountering God in the Scriptures, we can then consider that the whole Bible is about this same gradual, increasing self-disclosure to a particular race of people just like me: the revelation of a person to persons, like ourselves, who also actually lived in a certain place at a certain time. (18-19)

The last two chapters, “Which Voice is His?” and “The Word is a Person” sum up how reading the Bible will bring us into closer communion with God, addressing both the issue of authority and the need to “read and study the Bible with the heart and mind of the Church” (193).

“The Word of God is a person, not a book,” the authors note (192). Scripture and Tradition, they affirm, go hand in hand.

Both are directed at the life of the Church. Together sacred Scripture and Tradition convey the Word of God. Apart from the living teaching authority of the Catholic Church, we are easily led into serious mistakes and error … (196)

Each chapter ends with a “God Prompt” that invites the reader into a guided exercise of Lectio Divina on a selected passage.

Let Ignite help you dive more deeply into the Word of God.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: St. Faustina Prayer Books

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Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners.

The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. You’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions.

Tassone explains the spirituality of St. Faustina in The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory:

The essence of Divine Mercy is twofold. First, to totally trust in Christ’s mercy. And second, to show mercy to others, acting as a vessel of God’s mercy. (24-25)

Peppered with prayers from the saints, Bible quotes and instructions on Catholic teachings such as fasting and the spiritual works of mercy, Tassone’s books are not necessarily designed to be read straight through. I recommend using colorful flags to mark your favorite spots or hold your place in a novena. There are prayers you’ll find yourself returning to again and again. If you’re new to the Divine Mercy Chaplet, you’ll find instructions for this beautiful prayer practice in both books.

Tassone observes in the Introduction to The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners,

Time and again, you sin. Time and again, I sin. Time and again, Jesus calls each of us to turn, to return, to our Heavenly Father and do His will. (19)

Whenever you have a few minutes, you can read one of the short essays in these books and then conclude with one of the many prayers. These small-format books fit easily in a handbag or briefcase and are perfect to take to Adoration.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.