“Um. No thanks. I’ll clip this green hand-sanitizer holder to my belt loop. That’ll work.”
More St. Patrick’s Day:
Same child, having solved the green problem and moving on: “St. Patrick was supposed to come last night and leave us candy.”
Skeptical mother: “Oh was he, now?”
“Or green toys or something. Or a leprechaun comes.”
Mother, still skeptical: “Oh I see.”
“It’s okay. He can come tonight instead.”
Then, Saturday morning . . .
“Mom. St. Patrick forgot to come last night.”
Mother: “St. Patrick doesn’t come to our house.”
“Or a leprechaun. All my friends get candy from the leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day.”
“All your friends, eh? What are the names of those friends?”
Hems and haws for a moment, then clarifies that it’s actually her sister’s friends. “All of A’s friends at St. Urban’s get candy.”
“Oh do they? What are the names of those friends?”
“Um. Well there’s Benedicta.”
Mother is not surprised. Benedicta’s mother is like that. “Anyone else?”
“Isn’t she Benedicta’s sister?”
“Well, yes. But they both got candy. The leprechaun comes to their house.”
“The leprechaun doesn’t come to our house. Good try.”
Good problems, Catholic School edition: When your child is sobbing and begging to be allowed to go to school, and swears she really isn’t that sick.
Weird problems, Saint Books edition:
Bored child: “Mom, do we have any of those little saint books but that aren’t about someone who becomes a monk or a nun and all they do is pray?”
Mother chooses not to argue, though there may have been a slight eye roll. “Um. Let’s go look.” Thumbing through the shelf that contains middle-grades saint books, Mother pounces on St. Isaac Jogues, who was neither a monk nor a nun. “How about this one?”
Child frowns and shakes head. “No. I want one of these saint books.”
Ah. Well. In that case . . . “How about this one?”
PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series. They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself. It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.
I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these. Need to rectify that.
The usual warning applies, this is genre fiction, as you’ve come to expect. Much more Hardy Boys than Thomas Hardy. Also, since I’m really liking this as an example of clean YA, let me just clarify: It is dark, creepy clean YA. Anne of Green Gables not so much. Sure, Nancy Drew knows what to do with a roll of duct tape, but she never had to leave someone a bleeding lump of near-death in order to get the duct tape on. Legitimate self-defense is a last resort for a reason.
(In contrast, this isn’t, say, the good-natured non-Catholic spouse who comes to Mass as a kindness to the Catholic spouse. These adults who both claim to be Catholic, AND claim to attend Mass every Sunday.)
So. In the pews next to you on Sunday, think of the three people you shake hands with during the Sign of Peace. If yours is a typical parish described by this study, you can assume you’ve shaken hands with at least one person who does not in fact believe and accept the Catholic faith.
Thinking of traveling to the far corners of the earth to evangelize? Your parish pews are mission territory.
In choosing best friends, if you can find one whose besetting sins are utterly different from your own . . . golden. Just golden.
A Sunday well-spent is truly a foretaste of Heaven. More coming later. Partly in response to this post.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed The King’s Gambit by John McNichol. My Amazon review is up, and when I get around to it, I’ll post something longer here at the blog. As always on my Catholic-genre youth fiction reviews, let us remember to ask ourselves: Do my tastes run to Thomas Hardy, or Hardy Boys? I’m firmly in the latter camp. I like my adult beverages some combination of bitter, dry, and rarefied; I like my fiction just the opposite.
I can’t remember what else. Have a great week. Happy Conclave-Watching!
I knew I had to pick Anna Mei, Blessing in Disguise for my latest Catholic Company review title, because otherwise my daughter would disown me. I’d picked up the first Anna Mei title last winter, shopping at the Pauline Media table between breaks at a catechist training session. My 10-year-old enjoyed the book, and I’d meant to read it, but never gotten around to it. I’ve now fixed that problem, and of course created a new one: I need to buy Escape Artist to round out our collection.
About the series: Anna Mei, the title character, is the adopted Chinese daughter, and only child, of the Anderson family. In the first book, Cartoon Girl, the family has just moved from Boston to a small town in Michigan. It’s Anna Mei’s first time being the new kid; she has to figure out how to make new friends and fit in, as well as come to terms with questions about her identity that had never been a problem before. In Blessing in Disguise, Anna Mei is in 7th grade, and plagued by the visiting Chinese ex-pats her parents think should be her new best friends, but with whom Anna Mei feels she has nothing in common.
Who’s it for: Older elementary and middle school girls. (Though I enjoyed reading them — I think they’re good mom books, too.) The action is largely emotional — loads of inner turmoil, self-examination, and the occasional eye roll or shouting match; zero crime scenes, zombies, or ninjas. It’s about the quintessential junior-high girl topics, identity and relationships. Reading level is similar to the American Girl History Mystery Series.
Catholic Reality Index: High. The setting is a good-but-normal public school. The Andersons are practicing Catholics; they say grace before meals, they go to Mass on Sunday, and two or three times during the book we catch Anna Mei saying a quick prayer of desperation. But the action is set in everyday, universally-experienced life. Problems aren’t solved by rosary marathons or visions of saints, but through normal problem-solving techniques like talking-it-out, or working-really-hard. For Catholic kids, the faith aspect will be an affirmation of their religious identity, but for non-Catholic readers, it’s just a normal story about a kid who happens to be Catholic. Basic model, average-American 21st century suburban Catholic, no rad-trad crazes, no apologetics ax to grind, just normal everyday Catholics.
Parent Approval Index: High. Anna Mei’s a good kid. When she does something wrong, her conscience bugs her. She knows she shouldn’t lie, and usually doesn’t; when she does, she immediately regrets it. The Anderson parents are good-but-normal parents. Not the enemy, not the idiot, not the clueless bumbler who has no idea what’s going on in the child’s life. We see them consciously trying to make good parenting decisions; when Anna Mei’s at odds with her parents, it bothers her.
Hokiness Index: None. With adoptive-child-turmoil as one of the themes, there was a real risk of handling the situation in a superficial, contrived, or melodramatic way. You know all the stupid things bystanders say to adoptive parents. None of that. This is a well-adjusted, happy family, and Anna Mei’s problems fit into normal tweenage questions about friendship and family. Very nicely done.
Verdict: These are great books. If you’re looking for clean, enjoyable fiction for your girls, these are fun, readable, and possibly even helpful as discussion-starters. Blessing in Disguise also has an extensive set of discussion questions at the end of the book, for use in book clubs or for school.
10-year-old reviewer says:
This book is a really great book. It’s well-written. And it’s just an awesome book. I like how they’re set in modern times, but they’re not weirdly written and strange and boring.
On who would like the book:
I’d say people who like to read books about problems and finding out if there’s something behind the problem that they just didn’t expect, and the problem gets worked out at the end. And everything turns out well.
I’ve been using the Faith and Life textbook series for homeschool religion since the boy was in first grade. I loved it then, and still love it now.
What you get: Each book in the series has approximately 30 chapters, designed to be read one a week throughout the school year. (Some years there are more chapters, some years less). The reading is on grade-level, but the first grade book is designed to be a read-aloud, and the second grade book will be a read-aloud for some students. Each chapter might be ten minutes worth of reading? One day’s assignment. At the end of the chapter there are usually some vocabulary words, a scripture or prayer, and some catechism questions and answers.
All except the 2nd grade book feature gorgeous traditional artwork for the illustrations. The second grade book uses contemporary-school-book genre stuff, but you’ll get over that insult when you get back to 3rd grade and the serious art resumes for the remainder of the series.
Each book has a theme — first grade covers Salvation 101, 2nd grade prepares students for the sacraments of reconciliation and communion, fourth grade is a survey of the Bible, sixth grade is heavy on the moral life. Along the way you spiral through the essentials of the faith at an age-appropriate level, so it’s possible to jump right in at grade-level even if you haven’t used the texts before, or even ever studied the faith before.
The accompanying Activity Book is a consumable workbook with a combination of study questions and fun activities like coloring pages and crossword puzzles. Together the two make a complete package for home use — the student does the reading, completes the study questions, and does any of the extra workbook pages as desired. I let my kids write in the book, but if you did only the study questions on a separate paper, and no fun-and-games, you could pass the book down.
I have looked through the expansive (and expensive) teacher’s manuals, and they do contain a lot of helpful information for the catechist. But for home use, I think these are not needed. My advice for a parent who is not very knowledgeable of the faith would be to do the student reading along with the child, and then to learn more about the faith in general by picking out other good Catholic books on topics of interest.
UPDATED: Tara in the combox observes, and I would take her advice over mine:
I find them really really useful because I am not a catechist and I cannot make this stuff up. They have the answers for the activity book pages and have a test / quiz for each chapter and each section (again, answers supplied too). Unless you’re very confident and very experienced, I think they’re well worth the money.
FYI the teachers manuals are huge. So priced comparably (even favorably) to other works offering similar amounts of info.
I’ve never used Faith and Life in the classroom. My parish has always used some-other-brand. I have talked to several catechists from other parishes who didn’t care for F&L, because of the strongly academic focus (a selling point for me — I love it), and because the style of the lessons didn’t call for crafts and activities and so forth. We did do one test section of F&L for 8th grade last year, and the feedback I received at mid-year from the catechist teaching that class was very good. Feedback from a 2nd-grade catechist at another parish was that course material was good, but the lessons worked best if the teacher had free reign to present the topics the way she thought the students would learn them best. I think a lot depends on whether the parish in fact wants students to learn the faith with the rigor expected in other academic subjects, and whether the teacher has the experience and confidence to teach the material effectively.
What you don’t get in F&L: There’s very little in the way of multicultural imagery, church geography, or even much for lives of saints. This is a theology course, and you need to plan to fill out your students’ religious education with all the other stuff that makes up our faith and heritage. If you are going to Mass, observing the feast days, living out in the wider world, praying as a family, and reading lives of saints as part of your literature curriculum, you’re in good shape. Otherwise, plan to pick up some supplemental materials that will fill in your gaps.
About the Three Editions: There’s original, revised, and 3rd edition to match the new mass translation. Don’t worry about it. If someone gives you an older edition, it’ll work fine. Every now and then one of the assignments won’t line up, but it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, the books are fairly affordable new. My personal approach is if I’m going to buy, I buy new, but I’m not upgrading my older stock.
Kolbe also uses the St. Jospeh Baltimore Catechism series. These are retro-style catechisms, complete with an English translation of the mass that sounds almost like our new mass translation, because, get this: it’s translated straight from the Latin. Because the books are that old. The language is frank, the drawings are 1950’s-chic, and yes, I love this one too. Great discovery. If you want to justify mowing the lawn on Sundays, don’t let your kids read this book. No toe left un-stomped.
The course plans. For me as a catechist who happens to be a parent, the course plans primarily save me the work of writing up my own. But I think they’d be one of the sets of plans worth purchasing if you aren’t registered with Kolbe, because each day’s and week’s assignments include a summary of the lesson topic, and points to clarify as you teach your student. Lots of material in the plans.
The planned assignments do call for a lot of memorization and recitation. Recall that as the teaching parent, you’re free to decide just how much of that memory work your student needs to do.
FYI: The Kolbe plans run on a four-day schedule, and are built around a tutoring-type environment, so they can’t be peeled off the page and inserted into a parish religious education program as-written. That said, if I were Queen of Religious Ed (I’m not) and had the budget to match my imperial fantasy life, I’d want something like this to give to new and struggling catechists, because the plans to do a good job distilling the faith into the essentials.
I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world. I bought one book. This is it:
Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours. Perfect timing.
What it is: Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC. Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right. Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman. But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring. Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.
The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here. It’s what happened. The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler. (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.) The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details. Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.
–> I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen. If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few. Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.
Why “Most Important Book?”
This is a story that needs to be known. It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today. And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:
Freedom of Religion
Goodness and Virtue
Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
Huggy vs. Not-Huggy
You get the idea. There’s more. Without a single moment of preaching. Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.
Christian LeBlanc gave me a review copy of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So: A Year of Catechizing Directly from Scripture, and I’ve already mentioned that it’s a good book and you probably want to buy it. Today’s my day to tell you why normal, non-catechist people will like it, and then later I’ll post a catechist-type review over at AmazingCatechists.com.
What it is: Christian put together a survey of the Bible course for his 6th grade religious ed class. He uses the socratic method, and goes through the whole Bible in a year, explaining to the kids what’s in there, and how the Bible fits into our Catholic faith. (Quite nicely, thank you.) In addition to Bible history, he works in bits about the Theology of the Body, the sanctity of marriage, and loads of apologetics. One of the key themes is how we find the Mass and the sacraments in the Bible.
The Format: Each chapter is one class. He starts at the beginning of the school year in Genesis, and walks you through each class as-presented. (“Hey y’all, welcome to 6th grade . . .you are going to be miserable this year.”) The weird thing: This works. I’ve been reading Christian’s blog for a long time, but mostly only sort-of reading it, because although the topics are good for me, the truth is that when I’m goofing on the internet, my brain wants to goof off. And the class-dialog format requires paying attention, thinking, that kind of stuff.
In a book though, the narrative style comes into its own. The book is large format (8.5″ x 11″), so there’s enough page there to hold some serious thought without overwhelming. And books are meant for sit-a-spell reading. You can settle in, dig into a chapter, and enjoy.
The other reason these lectures work better in a book than on a blog is that you get the whole year in a continuous flow. I never felt like I was reading a blog-warmed over. Just the opposite. Even though I had read some (not all) of the ideas on the blog, when they are put together in a single work, and fully fleshed-out, the whole is far more than sum of the snippets.
Reading Level: Very comfortable. The conversational style, and the fact that this is a class for sixth graders, makes this a great book for someone just digging into the Bible for the first time. You don’t need to be a Catholic know-it-all before you start. This would work as a textbook for a middle-school or older student who wanted to study the Bible at home, but the material is substantial enough that any adult would enjoy it. Great option for a family Bible study.
What good for the non-Catechist? Well, here’s what: As it happens, this year our boy is starting the Bible History class that Kolbe does in 7th and 8th Grade. And it’s been a while since the SuperHusband has done a full read through the Bible (and me? <cough cough> we’re not talking about that), and Jon’s never studied the Bible as a Catholic before.
[Though admittedly Jon has a feel for the Catholic view, since his reversion was due in part to all the unmistakeably Catholic things God stuck in His book.]
So the timing for us was perfect. As we work through the Bible as a family, Jon & I can consult The Bible Tells Me So for ideas about discussion topics with the kids, things to point out, Mass-appreciation, all that.
Verdict: Pretty much an unqualified ‘buy’ recommend. I mean, I guess if you didn’t really want to understand the Bible, or find out how Catholics read it, or something like that, you might want to avoid it. Also if you hate humor. Don’t read this book if you have broken ribs or nasty cough, and your doctor told you No Laughing.
FYI: Christian haunts this combox, so you can ask him any questions you have.
I knew the gist of St. Gianna’s life, but this was the first detailed biography I’d read, and I think it’s an excellent introduction to the saint. It’s a compact, readable biography that starts with the marriage of Gianna’s parents in 1908. Through the lens of family life, we see St. Gianna working to discern her vocation and make the most of the struggles she faces throughout her life, as well as the tremendous joy she found in marriage, motherhood, and her work as a physician.
Reading Level: Upper elementary and up. My fourth grader (average reader, Catholic girl — which makes a difference, see below) read it in one afternoon.
Why this is a great book for Moms: I know that technically it’s a children’s book. But when you have small children, you really need something that can read in five-minute snatches (with interruptions every other paragraph) and still hope to reach the end of the book before you forget the beginning. And this a book not only about a mom, but with some encouraging details for normal moms. Just look at these saintly facts:
St. Gianna, working mother? Once her first baby was born, she had not just her own sister as a full-time nanny, but a housekeeper too.Did you get that? Not a super-person.
She takes her two pre-schoolers to Mass and the baby stays home. She was a saint. And she left her baby at home.
Her preschool boy lasted all of five minutes at Mass, per her account.
See? You need to read this. Saintly living for normal people.
Why this is a great book for pre-teens and teens: There is a very strong emphasis on vocation. Even though it was easy enough for my fourth grader to read, it would be perfect for about a twelve- or thirteen-year-old. Super book-club or youth group discussion choice, if you have a group of teen girls who get together to talk about Catholic stuff.
Sanity via history through biography: As a teenager, St. Gianna’s parents pulled her out of school for a year so she could rest and regain her health. They felt the vigor with which St. Gianna was pursuing her studies was wearing her out, and she needed the break. This is a teen who eventually went on to earn her M.D. If an American parent did this today, in many cases there would be significant legal and financial penalties for both parent and child. For this one anecdote alone, I’d recommend this book. You can’t think clearly about public policy if you are utterly wrapped up in the quirks of your own time and place.
Cautions for the would-be reader:
1. It helps to have a general background in Catholic culture before starting the book. There is a very helpful glossary at the back of the book, for those of us who never can remember what it is that makes a basilica a basilica. But for teaching this book to a mixed group of students with varying amounts of Catholic up-bringing, I would plan to go over the vocabulary and cultural notes for the next week’s class session before students did the reading.
2. There is a clear and straightforward explanation of the moral choices St. Gianna faced when she was diagnosed with a tumor during her last pregnancy — another reason this is a great book for adults. But it would be helpful for students to have a knowledgeable teacher to explain some of the basic moral principles that come into play. St. Gianna’s death is also a good illustration of ways Catholics can choose to handle end-of-life situations.
Conclusion: This one isn’t leaving my shelf. Recommended if you want an enjoyable, readable introduction to St. Gianna’s life, encouragement in your vocation and efforts at holiness, and a real-life example of moral choices in medical ethics and end-of-life issues.
Thanks again to the Catholic Company for their on-going efforts to keep bloggers from ever getting bored. I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and it’s not my fault I picked a book I happened to like (okay it is — but I didn’t know it would be this good in these ways). In addition to their work of mercy instructing the ignorant, The Catholic Company would like me to remind you they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.
Today for my Quick Takes I’m reviewing Sarah Reinhard’s new book, Catholic Family Fun. This is a stop on Sarah’s virtual book tour, so she should be lurking around the combox ready to answer any questions you have.
FYI, Sarah is not only a super-friendly person, she is also an extrovert, which means that her life as a writer is made tolerable by finding people to chat with. So say “Hi Sarah!”. She’ll be excited.
This is what the book looks like:
It’s about 140 pages, paperback, nice sturdy glossy cover. It’s designed to float around your house and be abused.
You know how women’s magazines have those little articles about fun things to do with your family? This is like 10 years of those ideas all in one place. Only you are spared those obnoxious photos of pristine toaster ovens and closets organized by that sect of hermits who take a vow to own nothing but three pieces of splashy, sassy, ready-for-spring ensembles to pair with their strappy heels. Also, no perfume ads.
Instead you get page after page of practical, realistic ideas for unplugged family activities that you can customize to match your kids’ ages and interests. The chapters are organized by types of activities (crafts, meals, outdoor adventures, etc.), and there are several easy-to-read indexes in the back to help you quickly find the ones that match your budget and energy level. Most of the suggestions are either free, or involve money you were going to spend anyway. (You are going to eat today, right?)
Other than the chapters on prayer and on the saints, the activities themselves can be purely fun family time, or they can be explicitly tied to the Catholic faith. Every activity includes suggestions on how to make the faith connection.
What if you aren’t crafty? Don’t panic on the crafts, there aren’t that many and they are very low-key. Indeed, I’d say this is the perfect book for people who don’t do glitter glue, foam art, or anything involving popsicle sticks, ever. Did I mention Sarah R. is a real mom of young children, with a farm, and a writing job, and . . . you get the picture. You may find yourself wanting an internet connection to pull off a few of these activities (I see you have access to one, very good), but no glue gun will ever be needed.
What if you are, in fact, the grumpy, curmudgeonly type? See the next section. I advise letting your kids pick the activities. That way you never need fear you’ve gotten all goofy and relaxed for nothing. Also you could tell the kids you aren’t going to do Chapters 1 and 2 yourself, but you’ll give them five bucks if they’ll just be quiet while your finish reading the paper. (Um, wait a minute. No, that’s not how the book’s supposed to work. Oops.) Chapters 3-9 are Curmudgeon-Safe, though the one idea about a backyard circus makes me a little nervous . . .
Who could use this book? Three groups of people come to mind, and last was a surprise to me, but it’s true:
1. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives.
If you’re trying to think up new ways to connect to the kids, and get out of the rut of doing the same old things.
If you have a long summer vacation ahead, with stir-crazy children and no money for expensive camps and activities.
Or if you didn’t have a satisfyingly Catholic childhood, and you want to find ways to share and practice your faith without being all stodgy and dour about it.
2. Kids. My daughter is fighting me for custody of our copy. The book is eminently readable, so you really can hand it to a late-elementary or older child, and say, “Pick something out for us to do Saturday.” I like that because then the onus is on the kids to decide which activity sounds fun — and I’m always surprised by what kids come up with when given the choice.
3. Catechists, VBS volunteers, scout leaders, and anyone else charged with keeping a group of kids busy for an hour or two. Some of the activities will only work in a family setting, but very many of them are well-suited to using in a classroom. The suggestions for faith tie-ins make this an awesome resource for religious ed and VBS. If your parish doesn’t have money for a high-priced pre-packaged program with talking pandas and cheesey chipmunk videos, you could seriously just go through this book and pick out activities to assemble a home-grown series of your own.
You know who loves a good VBS program? Allie Hathaway. It’s Friday, so we’re praying for her. And hey, offer up a quick one for Sarah Reinhard’s intentions as well. Thanks!
What else do you want to know? I’ve wrestled the book out of my daughter’s hands, so I’m happy to look stuff up and answer questions. Sarah’s around here somewhere, and if she doesn’t get to you today, she’s a very reliable combox-attender, so feel free to ask her questions as well.
PS: This and a package of pre-cooked bacon would make a great Mother’s Day gift.
Updated to toss in three bits of full disclosure, which together give the most accurate picture:
7.1) Pauline Media sent me a review copy.
7.2) You might have caught on, Sarah & I are friends, and perhaps you’ve noticed we work together at the CWG blog. Which means that if she wrote a lousy book, I just wouldn’t review it. I’m very grateful she doesn’t write lousy books, because that saves us a lot of awkward moments.
7.3) See “free book” above. I gave a copy of this book to my DRE, who is a mom and grandma of 10 bazillion children, and always griping observing that all the grandkids do is play Angry Birds. I knew she’d love to pass it around her family, and I was thrilled to see she could use it for religious ed ideas too. But you know what? I did not give her my free copy. See, that’s what I would have done if this was a so-so book. Instead, I paid cash to buy her a brand new copy of her own.
Hey and a gratuitous 7.4: Let’s just clarify: If you want a collection of pom-pom art ideas, this is not your book.