Ask for The Handy Little Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours at your local Catholic bookstore, or order online from Amazon.com or the publisher, Our Sunday Visitor.
Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz (created in Canva), all rights reserved.
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Chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps, and jelly beans are all great things to put into your child’s Easter basket. But you can fit a new picture book or two behind the candy—and it’s a treat your child will enjoy long after the sweets are gone.
We’ll look at them alphabetically by title, just to keep things fair and square. I certainly can’t choose a favorite!
Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server
Theresa Kiser’s storybook about an aspiring altar server who’s eager—but quite the klutz—is a sweet tale of perseverance and a little boy’s desire to do something for God. Mike Schwalm nailed it with the illustrations: my favorite one depicts Arthur sneezing incense into the face of another server. Arthur’s hard work and enthusiastic spirit are noticed by a kind priest who emphasizes what’s most important about being an altar server.
Bonus content at the end of the book shows the vestments worn by priests and altar servers. Available from Amazon or OSV Kids.
There’s no better season than the Easter season to introduce children to the saint who brought the Divine Mercy devotion to the world. Kaitlyn C. Mason’s rhyming book about St. Faustina Kowalska tells the story of the little girl who grew up to be a saint. Braelyn Snow’s detailed illustrations complement every page.
After the story, you’ll find instructions on praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well as family discussion questions and a pledge to trust in God. This book is designed as a read-aloud for children in primary school; it’s probably too complex for preschoolers. Available from Amazon or TAN Books.
I Am Earth’s Keeper
Lisa Hendey’s first rhyming book opens with a small child’s early-morning kayak ride that leads him to marvel at the natural world around him and want to protect it. It’s inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, and the cadence of the story will draw readers (and listeners) young and old into the beautiful natural world where it takes place.
The tones and vibe of the illustrations by Guiliano Ferri remind me very much of a favorite picture book from my own childhood. Get a copy to enjoy with your favorite young readers, and teach them that we care for Creation because it was created by God! This book is appropriate for toddlers on up. Available from Amazon or Paraclete Press.
In This Catholic Church
This book by Maura Roan McKeegan reminded me of one of my favorite nursery rhymes, “This Is the House that Jack Built.” Each page builds upon the one before, as the reader is invited into the church and looks around at the people and objects inside. The story culminates as the congregation gathers and the priest offers Mass.
The simple, engaging illustrations by Ted Schluenderfritz shine light on each element in turn, until we see the whole church focused on the Mass being offered beneath the crucifix that hangs above the altar. Toddlers and preschoolers will love this picture book. Available from Amazon or OSV Kids.
Jesus and the Miracle of the Mass
Gracie Jagla’s rhyming book about the Mass emphasizes the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The story is narrated by Jesus, who wants the children at Mass to know that in the Eucharist, He truly comes to us, and invites the children to pray to Him just as they would talk with their best friend.
The story follows along through the different parts of Mass and reminds children that the whole Communion of Saints prays along with them at every Mass. The illustrations (paintings, really!) by Randy Friemel add to the story, with a modern style that’s energetic but not off-putting. An excellent book for children making their First Communion this spring. Available from Amazon or OSV Kids.
Cecilia Cicone’s new picture book tells a story I never knew: some faith-filled astronauts carried the Eucharist along on a space-shuttle mission in 1994. The story centers on Dr. Tom Jones and all the preparation he went through in order to be ready to go into space. He spent two years getting ready for this mission, but always made sure to attend Mass with his family and to find time for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Endeavor crew carried a pyx containing the Eucharist into space with them, and spent time in prayer, thanking God for making the mission possible before receiving the Eucharist. The end of the book includes a note from astronaut Tom Jones, encouraging readers to keep Jesus with them wherever they go. In addition to Gabhor Utomo’s colorful illustrations, the book includes three full pages of photos of the astronauts and their mission. This book would be a perfect gift for a First Communicant. Available from Amazon or Pauline Books & Media.
The Women Doctors of the Church
More than a children’s biography of four fascinating women of the Church, this picture book by Colleen Pressprich is an encouragement. “God is not looking for saints who are exactly alike. He doesn’t need another Hildegarde, Catherine, Teresa, or Thérèse. He needs you.” Readers will learn what it means to be a Doctor of the Church, and how these four holy women each served God in her own special way.
The illustrations by Adalee Hude are beautiful and not childish; they are lavish in color and eye-catching. This book is for independent readers and makes a great read-aloud. Available from Amazon or OSV Kids.
Ask for these books at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon.com or the publishers.
Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the website owner when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you.
Have you ever tried praying the Liturgy of the Hours?
Have you ever given up praying the Liturgy of the Hours because it seems too complicated? Too many pages, too many ribbons, too many ways to go wrong?
What if I told you that you can pray one part of the Liturgy of the Hours without needing to flip around in the book—all you need to know is what day of the week it is?
This Lent, try praying Night Prayer.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a saint’s feast day or the season of Lent or anything like that: there’s only one week a year that Night Prayer is different, and the instructions for that are right there in the book.
In my new book The Handy Little Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours (available now on Kindle; the print version releases March 27), I emphasize that for Liturgy of the Hours beginners, Night Prayer is a simple introduction to the cadence of the prayers.
Is it worth the effort? Yes. Is it doable? Yes! Start small, both in building the habit of prayer and your skills in navigating the breviary. Night Prayer is a wonderful way to begin, because it’s shorter and less complex than Morning and Evening Prayer. Take all the time you need to build up your prayer muscles. (21-22)
If you’re using Christian Prayer, you’ll find Night Prayer beginning on p. 1034.
Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos created in Stencil, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon links; your purchase through these links supports the work of this website at no cost to you. Thank you!
In her new booklet, OSV Kids Stations of the Cross, Colleen Pressprich proves that the Stations of the Cross can be made accessible to kids without watering down the impact of the devotion.
One of the things I look forward to each Lent is the parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross each Friday. When my children were in grade school, they would go to the church on Friday afternoons to pray the Stations. Parents were invited to attend, and I often did when my schedule allowed, but the resource the school was using for the Stations was complicated, with flowery language.
That’s not a problem with this new resource from OSV Kids. Colleen Pressprich and illustrator Adalee Hude have created a prayer resource that’s long on reverence and simplicity and short on complicated vocabulary and graphic detail.
Each Station begins with the traditional call-and-response used at the Stations of the Cross. A brief meditation follows, accompanied by a few questions to help the children relate the challenges and suffering Jesus faced to experiences in their own lives. In the prayer for each Station, the children ask for Jesus’ help in meeting challenges such as loneliness, tiredness, frustration, discouragement, and forgiveness.
The meditation and prayer from the Second Station are good examples of how the suffering Jesus experienced is depicted in a child-appropriate way:
The soldiers make Jesus carry his own cross to the hill where he will die. The cross is very heavy. Jesus was in prison all night, and he hasn’t eaten any food since the Last Supper the night before. He also has been beaten. He is tired and weak, yet he still chooses to take up his own cross and walk toward his death because he loves us.
Have you ever had to do something very hard even though you were tired? How did it feel? What helped you keep going? What do you think Jesus was thinking when he lifted the heavy cross onto his back?
Dear Jesus, please remind us that you are with us when we are tired and don’t want to do what is asked of us. Please help us to remember that we can offer up what we don’t like as a prayer. Amen.
I would recommend OSV Kids Stations of the Cross for use with children in elementary school. It’s an excellent resource for families to use to pray the Stations together, and would also be great for use in Catholic schools or religious education programs.
Don’t skip the author’s note at the beginning of the book. Pressprich addresses this to parents, teachers, and priests; in it, she explains how adults can model faith-sharing by using some of the questions in the meditation for each Station.
It’s important to note that while the Stations of the Cross is a popular devotion during Lent, the Stations can be prayed all year ’round. I remember that when I was a child, my great-aunts and great-uncle used to visit a church every single day to pray the Stations—even while on vacation! If you find that the Stations of the Cross becomes a special devotion for your family, think about ways you could pray it as a family once a month, perhaps on the First Friday.
Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase using these links supports my writing ministry at no additional cost to you.
The saints and Mary cannot answer our prayers; only God can do that. But they can, and we believe they do, hear our prayers and pray for us, acting as intercessors on our behalf with God.
Our holy helpers, the saints, are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews who surround us, helping us “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).
By uniting our prayers with those of Mary and the saints and learning more about their lives and their example, we can draw closer to God.
Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Why I love this book:
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.
When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).
When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)
It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.
I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.
Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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