On Barb’s Bookshelf: Saintly Inspiration for Kids

Barb's Book shelf blog title

November is the Month of the Holy Souls, but it kicks off with All Saint’s Day: a time to celebrate the saints we know by name as well as those whose saintly virtue is less well-known, but no less important to God. This November, encourage your children to learn more about the saints of the Church! Pauline Kids, a division of Pauline Books & Media, has published several books about saints — including one book about how to be a saint!

mary and little shepherds of fatimaLet’s begin with a peek at a book about the child visionaries (two of whom are now saints) of Fatima. Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima is a picture book just right for a bedtime story or classroom read-aloud. Written by Sister Marlyn Monge, FSP, and Jaymie Stuart Wolfe, this book recounts the experiences of Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia in 1916 and 1917, when they saw visions first of an angel and then of the Blessed Mother. This sensitive retelling of the Fatima miracles concludes with four pages about prayer, including instructions on praying the rosary, and a parents’ page explaining more about the Fatima visions.  This sweetly-illustrated book is perfect for children in kindergarten through third grade.

mary our motherChildren in this age group will enjoy Mary Our Mother, a coloring and activity book about (you guessed it!) the Blessed Mother. Coloring pages depict the major events in Mary’s life, and are interspered with activities encouraging children to think about their own families and ways they can help others, as well as Bible-trivia activities. My favorite section included coloring pages of apparitions of Our Lady, including Fatima, Aparecida (Brazil), Guadalupe, and others. Prayers such as the Memorare and Magnificat are also featured. I wanted to get some crayons out and color some of these pages!

legend of st christopherOlder readers who are into graphic novels will be thrilled to find graphic novels about saints among Pauline Kids’ offerings. The subjects of the two newest ones are St. Christopher and St. Clare of Assisi. In The Legend of St. Christopher: Quest for a King, Offerus, a young giant known for his great strength, sets off on an adventure that includes an encounter with the devil. When he learns about Jesus, he decides he wants to serve him instead of earthly kings, and is baptized and given the name Christopher. As his life changes, he observes, “God has filled me with joy and peace because I’m serving him by helping others.” Learn about his amazing experience when he encounters a little child in need, and why the Church calls him the “patron of travelers.”

st clare of assisiYou might think that the graphic biography of St. Clare of Assisi doesn’t include dramatic battle scenes. But there’s no lack of suspense when Clare slips away from her childhood home through an ancient tunnel, on her way to follow Francis and embrace a life of poverty. Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl doesn’t gloss over the episodes of Franciscan lore that include kissing lepers and receiving the stigmata; Clare is included in the scenes of both of these events. And there is a battle scene depicting the Eucharistic miracle where St. Clare, holding the monstrance, defends her holy place and her city from an attack by the Saracens.

how to be a heroI saved my favorite book for last: How to be a Hero. “This book is a training manual,” author Julia Harrell notes in the introduction. The book is organized by virtue, with 11 saints matched up with the four cardinal virtues, three theological virtues, and four “little” virtues. Most, but not all, of the saints featured in this book are more modern-day saints such as St. John Paul II, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Saint Charbel, and Blessed Chiara Badano, though St. Joan of Arc makes an appearance too. In the book’s conclusion, titled “You can be a hero,” the author notes that “there are as many ways to be holy as there are people” and encourages young readers to act virtuously. A Prayer for Virtue and Litany for the Virtues of the Saints round out the book, as does a discussion/journaling section titled “How can I train to be a hero of virtue?” Readers in fourth grade through middle school will enjoy this book.

 


Copyright 2017 Barbara 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.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Back-to-School Reads from Pauline Books

As the summer winds down and the school year begins, it’s time to look at some books for readers of all ages from Pauline Books and Media. I’ve organized these by age, beginning with one for the bedtime-story set.

beginnings
Beginnings by Lori Ann Watson is an excellent read-aloud for the start of a school year. Capitalizing on young children’s fascination with the natural world, Watson shows the beginnings of such diverse things as flowers, rivers, trees, butterflies, rainstorms and baby birds, then concludes with a child’s own beginning: God giving a child to a family, where the baby grows within the mother’s womb and then is born. This book carries a beautiful message about God’s love and God’s loving plan. Reinforcing the humanity of the unborn child, Beginnings would make a special gift for a child feeling a bit displaced by the impending birth of a sibling. Beautiful, gently-colored illustrations by Shennen Bersani complement the story and feature children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

beatitudes explained
The Beatitudes Explained by Silvia Vecchini is for independent readers in intermediate school. This book, available Tuesday, August 15, is a small booklet that breaks down the beloved teaching from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into lesson-sized pieces. Each Beatitude is related to other Gospel stories, events or parables. Readers then consider what Jesus is asking us to do, and read “Words to Live By” which come from Scripture or saints. Finally, the “Notebook” pages at the end of each section offer journal prompts about how we can better live the Beatitudes on a daily basis. This book is an excellent supplement for religious-education classes and would also be a good resource for families to work through together.
anointed
Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Pope Francis (compiled by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe) is designed specifically for teens who are preparing for Confirmation or are newly Confirmed. Most of the book is comprised of quotes from Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audiences. These short quotes are laid out on colorful pages with energetic, eye-catching design. Grouped according to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the quotes are encouraging and inspiring. The final chapter is made up of prayers, many of which are Holy-Spirit centered. There is also a short introduction to Lectio Divina, a list of Bible verses to inspire prayer, and a list of relevant sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I like the idea of gifting this book to teens at the beginning of their formal sacrament preparation so it can be used as a prayer resource for them as they ready their souls to receive the Holy Spirit. Visit Pauline Books to preview this book and download a free poster!
jesus speaks to you

 

A new Catholic coloring book from artist Veruschka Guerra, Jesus Speaks to You, provides a creative prayer outlet for fans of coloring books. Beautiful images inspired by Jesus’ words in Scripture fill the pages of this large-format book. My favorite design is an intricate botanical drawing inspired by the Parable of the Mustard Seed (but I reserve the right to change my mind about that as I keep coloring in this book!) You can download a free sample page from the coloring book along with a coupon code for a special offer through August 14.

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 free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Winning Reads for Kids and Teens

It’s always fun to learn that books you’ve enjoyed have won awards! It’s even better when you’ve met an author or have a local connection. That’s the case with two books for kids and teens from Pauline Books and Media, both of which won Excellence in Publishing Awards from the Association of Catholic Publishers this week.

If you’re looking for books for your children and teens this summer, I highly recommend these two!

A Single Bead by Stephanie Engelman

Stephanie Engelman, whom I met last summer at the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow and Catholic Writers Guild Conference, proves that a story doesn’t have to be edgy to be compelling. In her YA novel, A Single Bead (Pauline Teen, 2016) teenage Kate finds faith in an unlikely way: through the stories of others who have been touched by the prayers of her grandmother, killed in a plane crash a year ago.

From my review: The novel opens with Kate’s extended family gathered around the plane-crash site for a memorial service. Needing a moment to get away from the tension and grief, Kate stumbles toward a wooded area where she finds a shiny bead–one from her grandmother’s custom-made rosary that had silver beads with the initials of her loves ones engraved on each. Kate doesn’t find just any bead. She finds the one with her own initials on it.

Kate and her cousins go on to discover that other beads have been found, and that the people who received them have experienced physical or emotional healing. Could it be that her grandmother’s prayers have such a deep effect?

Thus begins a journey of faith for Kate, whose extended family is deeply Catholic but whose own immediate family is less engaged in the faith. But faith is exactly what’s needed, because Kate’s mom has fallen into a deep depression after the plane crash a year ago. Kate hopes that finding other pieces of the rosary will help heal her mom.

This compelling novel is appropriate for students in grades 5 and up and challenges the reader to lay aside the idea that a prayer or a sacramental can be a “magical” thing. It is refreshing to read about an extended family whose life is centered on faith.

 

32 days

Author Ellen Lucey Prozeller writes from my diocese (Trenton, NJ). Her book, 32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage, is a historical fiction account of the life of a little girl in China who, with her family, was forced to practice her Catholic faith in secret.

From my review: After her church was desecrated by Communist soldiers, Pei makes the risky decision to sneak into the church at night to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The story is told from Pei’s point of view. Readers in grades 3 through 5 will learn about a child their own age who lives her faith in a time of oppression: a young, unknown Catholic hero.

Winning Reads for Kids and Teens

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

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.

 

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Happy Jar

I’m always happy to review children’s books. I may not be reading them along with (or ahead of) my kids anymore, but since I volunteer in the school library, I spend a few hours each week surrounded by children’s books and children asking for book recommendations.

happy jar

Jake Frost’s new picture book, The Happy Jar, is one I’ll definitely recommend to young readers, but I think it’s most effective as a read-aloud.

That’s because The Happy Jar, as the back-cover blurb indicates, is “about life’s little moments and the love that transforms them into memories for a lifetime.” Jake’s inspiration for this book was an idea his oldest child came up with when she was only four years old. In the book, the little girl explains,

“Every night when we say our prayers, we also say something from the day that goes in our Happy Jar, and we thank Jesus for it.”

What a wonderful bedtime-prayer ritual, and what a great story of the daddy-daughter bond. Then again, the bond between father and child is the signature topic for Jake Frost, and one he explores with great humor and tenderness.

The illustrations in this book stand apart from many of the children’s books that are published today. While these illustrations are brightly-colored, they’re not garish or glaring. They’re simple and engaging, just right for a bedtime-story book.

When you read The Happy Jar with your young child, you’ll be reminded that the best memories don’t have to cost a lot of money. Many of the best memories don’t cost any money: they’re just based on time spent together, having fun, letting children use their imaginations and enjoying the world around you.

After you read The Happy Jar with your young child, ask what they would like to add to their “happy jar” that day.

I know it’s early to be thinking about Father’s Day already, but this book is a perfect gift for a small child to give to Daddy on Father’s Day.

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.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Strangers at the Manger

Here’s a book the whole family can enjoy together as the Christmas season winds down: The Strangers at the Manger by Lisa M. Hendey.

Number 5 in the “Chime Traveler” series of chapter books for kids in grades 2 and up (younger as a read-aloud), this novel finds twins Patrick and Katie traveling through time to Bethlehem, where they accompany Mary and Joseph through their attempts to find lodging and stay with them until the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempts on Jesus’ life.

Readers will feel as if they’re really there, encountering shepherds, Magi and even Anna and Simeon in the Temple. Hendey’s account of the Incarnation weaves Gospel stories seamlessly with the fictional addition of modern-day visitors who find ways to help Mary and Joseph take care of their newborn son. The stories incorporate a level of detail that will fascinate children who want to know what life was like during Jesus’ time.

Lisa Hendey’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is particularly evident in the way Mary is portrayed in the story.

Books in the “Chime Traveler” series always focus on a lesson the children must learn before they can return to their own families; this book centers on a refugee family seeking shelter in the twins’ parish church.

This series is published by Franciscan Media.

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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: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Carmela Martino deftly handles the sensitive topic of infant loss in Rosa, Sola, a book for children ages 10 and up.

Rosa wants nothing more than a baby brother of her own. But this is more than simple envy over her best friend’s new baby brother. Rosa is an only child, and in 1960s Chicago, that’s a rarity–and she feels like an outsider among all her friends with their large families. Rosa’s wish comes true, but she blames herself for the tragic events that follow.

It’s easy to forget, or overlook, the impact that the death of an unborn or newborn sibling can have on other children in a family. Rosa, Sola explores all the raw emotions that go along with a family tragedy–in a manner that is merciful, not gratuitous.

Parents will appreciate the classroom discussion guide at the end of the book; it’s also available on the author’s website.

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As I read this very touching novel, I couldn’t help but consider the Year-of-Mercy implications it contains. Rosa, Sola is all about how the Corporal and Spiritual Mercy can be given and received. With that in mind, I asked author Carmela Martino to discuss this topic from her own point of view and that of a few of the characters.

Carmela, this book deals with the sensitive topic of infant loss as seen through the eyes of an older sibling. How do you recommend that parents handle the discussion of this topic with their children?

The original publisher, Candlewick Press, designated Rosa, Sola for ages 8-12. When I speak to parents, I tell them that it’s aimed at ages 9 and up, but add that it does deal with death. My first recommendation is for parents to read the novel themselves before deciding whether it’s appropriate for their child, especially if the child is under age 10. (The book’s a quick read.) I am not a therapist or an expert on the topic of grief, but I am a parent, as well as an aunt to many nieces and nephews, and I’ve seen how unique a child’s reaction to a book can be, no matter the subject. Teen readers have responded more enthusiastically to Rosa, Sola than I expected. One Chicago-area Catholic school added the novel to their sixth-grade curriculum and it led to terrific discussions. At the other end of the spectrum, I was stunned to read a review of Rosa, Sola written by a seven-year-old. I don’t believe my son would have handled the book well at that age. Yet this seven-year-old wrote an amazing review, admitting that Rosa, Sola “was a very sad book and it made me cry,” but also writing about how Rosa’s family “solves problems together and helps together.” The seven-year-old ended the review by saying “I learned that when someone cries about a book it’s a very good book!”

So perhaps a good place for parents to start a discussion of Rosa, Sola would be by having their child write a book review, or by talking about what points the child would include in a review. This could provide insights into which parts of the book made the greatest impression and lead into a discussion of what the book is really about. Parents may be surprised, as I have been, to find how well children pick up on the novel’s deeper themes. In my opinion, Rosa, Sola isn’t so much about death as it is about how love—God’s love and the love of family and friends—can help us through our darkest moments. Father Kevin Shanley, O. Carm., summarized the novel beautifully in his review of the original hardcover edition: “Challenged by the loss of her brother but ultimately bolstered by hope, young Rosa comes to the great understanding that she is never alone, and that love and kinship are often found in the most unexpected places—right in the middle of life itself.”

By the way, parents will find a “Discussion Questions” section in the back of the new edition of Rosa, Sola. For those with the original hardcover edition, the same discussion questions are available on my website.

Let’s talk with a few of the characters about how they gave and received the works of mercy.

Rosa, what do you wish your friends would have said or done for you when you were feeling bad about your baby brother’s death?

I know you’re supposed to say “I’m sorry” when someone dies, but when my best friend AnnaMaria said that to me, all I could think of was how she had a baby brother and I didn’t. That made me cry, and then I felt embarrassed for crying in front of everyone. I think maybe it would have been better if she’d made me a card and mailed it to my house instead, the way Ma had me do for AnnaMaria when her grandpa died. That way, if the card made me cry, no one would see.

But what I really wish is that my friends would treat me the same as before and not be afraid to talk to me or play with me. I know at first I wanted to be left alone, and I’m glad they didn’t bother me then. But later, when I wanted to be around them again, my friends stayed away from me at lunch and recess. I guess they were afraid of making me cry again. I’m so glad we had the spelling bee! After that, everything went back to normal and I didn’t feel strange or different anymore, even though inside I was still sad.

Rosa, what would you have changed about the way your parents and Aunt Ida handled the subject around you?

First thing, I would have had Papa or Uncle Sal tell me the bad news. I didn’t really like Aunt Ida back then, so it made me extra sad when she was the one who told me. She tried to make me feel better, but she didn’t know how to hold me the way Ma did. Then later, I would have had Papa be home more and not spend so much time at the hospital, and for Papa not to ignore me the way he did when he was home. I would have had him talk to me more, and tell me everything was going to be okay. That Ma would be okay. That our family would be okay.

I just thought of something. Maybe Papa didn’t want to cry in front of me, just like I didn’t want to cry in front of my friends. But I think it would have been good if Papa did cry. Uncle Sal had told me it was okay to cry, and after I did, I felt a little better. I think Papa and me crying together would have helped both of us feel better.

Aunt Ida, what was the hardest part about caring for Rosa while Ma was in the hospital?

Oh, those days were so very terrible. I was afraid Francesca might die and leave Rosa motherless. I grew up without a mother and I feared Rosa might have to suffer in the same way. During those terrible days, I tried my best to make Rosa feel safe, to protect her from worry. But what did I know of mothering? I have no memory of my mother and I never had any children of my own. I think the hardest part was hiding how afraid I really was. I had to be strong for Rosa’s sake, even if she thought I was being cruel. Better Rosa hate me than she should worry about her mama, no?

Mrs. Graziano, as a neighbor and family friend, what was the best thing you were able to do for Rosa or her family?

The best thing? I’m not sure. I tried to be there for whatever help the family needed. They needed someone to care for Rosa before and after school—I was there. They needed food to eat—I cooked. Rosa needed someone to tell her worries to—I let her talk. I tried not to ask too many questions. I didn’t want to be nosy. But when Rosa talked, I listened. Not with just my ears. Con il mio cuore—with my heart. Rosa’s words reminded me of some hard, scary times in my own family. So I told Rosa about those times, and about how everything was okay in the end. Maybe, then, the best thing I did was give Rosa hope that everything would be okay for her family, too.

About the author: Carmela Martino (www.carmelamartino.com) is a freelance writer, children’s author, and writing teacher. Her acclaimed children’s novel, Rosa, Sola, which was inspired by her experiences growing up in an Italian-American family, received the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval and was named a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth. Carmela’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, New Catholic Explorer, and numerous other publications. She blogs about writing and teaching at TeachingAuthors.com (www.teachingauthors.com).

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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.

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

Book Review: Chime Travelers series for kids

For the past 8 years I have spent 1/2 day per week volunteering in the library of our local Catholic elementary school. I check books in and out, help kids find books, put books away, and talk with kids about what they like to read. In those 8 years I’ve seen , talked about, and read an awful lot of children’s books.

(Yes, I read children’s books. Sometimes it’s because the librarian has asked me to read something aloud to a class. Sometimes it’s because, as I was putting a book on a shelf, I was intrigued–so I’d take the book home.)

It’s a Catholic school library, but there’s almost no Catholic fiction in it. Except for Tomie dePaola’s picture books, I haven’t found any Catholic fiction in it.

chime travelers bannerThat’s about to change; I’m going to be donating copies of Lisa Hendey’s Chime Traveler series to the school library. And I’ll be talking them up when the first- through fourth-graders come in.

The first two books in the series were released today! I’ve read them both; they center on a set of twins who are thrust into adventures with saints from long-ago times. These adventures help the twins learn a life lesson related to something they’ve been struggling with.

chime travelers book 1

Book 1 is titled The Secret of the Shamrock. In this story, Patrick meets his patron saint, St. Patrick, and travels (with his frog in his backpack) across Ireland. On his journey, Patrick wrestles with the mystery of the Trinity and learns about trusting in God.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that frog, though.

chime travelers book 2

Book 2, The Sign of the Carved Cross, tells the tale of Katie’s adventure as she journeys with St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Katie struggles with the popularity issues so many kids will relate to, trying to fit in with the “mean girls” by excluding others. Her encounter with St. Kateri will help her learn about true friendship and compassion. 

 These are fun stories, complete with mischief and humor, that feature the bonus of learning what it might be like to walk side-by-side with a well-known saint. The novels portray the saints as real people who become friends with Patrick and Katie and whom young readers will want as their own friends!

I’m glad to introduce these novels to young Catholic readers. They’d make great classroom novels or family read-alouds as well as being fun reads for independent readers getting their feet wet with chapter books. Kids will easily relate to Patrick and Katie, who try to be good but don’t always succeed and who struggle with the usual stuff: family, friends, chores and school. 

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the superb work done by illustrator Jenn Bower, whose art features a fun, lively, retro feel. The covers are totally eye-catching; I had the books on my coffee table one evening when a few friends came over, and everyone was picking them up. But there are more charming illustrations within the books as well.

Im a chime traveler

You can order the Chime Travelers books from the Amazon links above (the books are $5.99 each) OR you can purchase autographed copies directly from the author for only $5 each postpaid! Bulk orders save even more. Use this form for direct purchases

 
The fine print: I received advance reader copies of both Chime Travelers novels from the publisher, Franciscan Media, in return for my honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review. Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

 
More fine print: Links to the Chime Traveler books are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase of a book using those links adds a little something to my Amazon piggy bank, but costs you nothing extra. 

 Image credit: Chime Traveler Kids page on Facebook. Used by permission of Chime Travelers author Lisa Hendey. All rights reserved.