Tag Archives: faith

The Little Friar Who Flew

When I learned of this book’s existence a few years ago, I was frustrated at the lack of information on the book, the expense of out-of-print copies and maddening lack of interior images! I think might be able to find a couple pictures now with a google search, but I thought I’d post my own for curious people.

The Little Friar Who Flew by Patricia Lee Gauch is one of the lesser known saint picture books on the market and not nearly as talked about as illustrator de Paola’s other works are.  I was finally able to buy a reasonably priced copy to add to our bookshelf recently and am quite happy with the purchase. We had seen The Reluctant Saint as a family and enjoyed it very much (the kids laughing hysterically at the flying scenes) so the children were happy to have even more context to learn about St. Joseph of Cupertino.  The book is simple and a perfect introduction to this humble, “little donkey” of a saint. He, along with St. John Vianney, always reassure me with my not-so-academically advanced children… God measures our love, not our IQs.

Please enjoy these inside shots of a lovely, little book:

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A New Noah’s Ark Book… and the Best One Yet

 Up until now, Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous Noah’s Ark book was as good as one could ever hope for. I mean, it features his beautiful artwork and offers a faithful retelling of the story. I had no complaints and used it faithfully for my Jesse Tree Picture Book readings.

And then, along came the MET to one up him. Released a couple months ago is the most beautiful Noah’s Ark book on the market to date.  Linda Falkin’s Noah’s Ark takes the cake. This one is my new favorite, narrowly eeking past the Pinkney title just for the awesome art appreciation opportunities within its covers. The text is straight from the Bible and each page features a different artist’s full color, full spread reproduction of the famed scenes. It’s awesome and visually engaging and highly recommended. Anytime I can make the great masters part of my children’s everyday life, I will do so with gladness. If you own just one picture book on this story, make it this one.

Joseph_Anton_Koch_006 the_arkAurelio-Luini-Rising-in-the-Ark

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Just for Today…

In one of my rare moves, I made an immediate and full-priced purchase of the newest book by Bimba Landmann (I had been saving my Amazon card points!): Just For Today, which is the title of the famous decalogue by Pope St. John XXIII.  She’s been one of my absolute favorite illustrators ever since I discovered her other titles like Clare and Francis, A Boy Named Giotto and others.

I tried looking up the history of the prayer, because its origin isn’t universally accepted and several adaptations of the prayer exist, one is in use by AA.  Here is a common one:

  1. Just for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once. 
  2. Just for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Just for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Just for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Just for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Just for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
  8. Just for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
  9. Just for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
  10. Just for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

And I think that is a fantastic prayer for meditation.

Bimba Landmann’s style isn’t one that everyone will immediately appreciate. She has a whimsy to be sure… but not a fun, cutesy, whimsy like Elisa Kleven that everyone adores… Bimba’s is more ethereal and almost Byzantine influenced. In this book, for example, the pictures are gorgeous but aren’t always a perfect correlation with the text at first glance. There’s a boy (who is he? The young pope?) who seems to be living in some kind of Turkish or Muslim-inspired seaside village.  And he has, um… a pet reindeer… I think that’s what it is at least.

Yet despite these oddities, it all somehow fits.  And it makes the prayer’s meditative quality shine through to not have such literal illustrations.

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Brother Hugo and the Bear for Lent!


For Valentine’s Day this year, I gifted each of my children a “one free book” coupon and they got to select ANY book they wanted to have shipped to them (all second hand “Like New” copies, to keep it cost effective and I retained veto powers of course…)  With just a hint of guidance, my three year old saw the picture of Brother Hugo and the Bear and declared proudly that it was to be his choice. Yes!

The book came and immediately I fell in love with it. It is a story imagined by Katy Beebe from one tiny little line in a real, historical letter that comments this:

“And send to us, if you please, the great volume of letters by the holy father Augustine, which contains his letters to Saint Jerome, and Saint Jerome’s to him. For it happens that the greater part of our volume was eaten by a bear.”


The book is not Catholic per se. But it is decidedly real and fresh in the dealings with 100% of the characters being monks (except the bear) and the work they do being authentic to that time period.  It opens up, fittingly on Lent as poor Brother Hugo has to recopy the entire manuscript he lost… which makes for a proper seasonal penance. Illustrations are exceptionally well done by Steve Schindler for the book and the illuminated lettering mimics the style (in a nouveaux way) of the medieval masters. 

The book would be a great unit study builder for all things medieval… especially cloistered life, illuminated letters, manuscript making and the 12th century in general. I am going to pair it with a viewing of that oddly strange and beautiful period movie: The Secret of Kells. If I was really motivated, I’d figure out some sort of illuminated letter lesson but I’m pretty sure all our markers are currently lost in heater return vents or chewed up by the puppy. So that may need to wait…  

All in all, I’m delighted to have this book and use it as Lenten reading (not in a pious way, but at least in a relevant, fun way) and highly recommend it to those who are interested in bringing the Middle Aged, monastic life alive for their children. Probably my best picture book purchase in a long time…

Check out this hypnotic video showing the start to finish illustrations, set to chant… 

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Noah’s Ark by Francesca Crespi!

Of course! Of course!  Why hasn’t it been done before?!  The story of Noah’s ark presented in a pop-up book?!  It makes beautiful sense…  and who better to give it the elegant razzle-dazzle than the talented Francesca Crespi?!  The pop-up master who’s stayed quietly out of the picture book world since her last title in 2008.

We missed you Francesca!  I mean, we did have the wonderful Robert Sabuda to keep us busy with his recent releases of pop-up fairy tales. (A special shout out for his stunning adaptation of The Little Mermaid where he artfully and tastefully deals with mermaid nudity and provides intricate pages within the pages. You’ve got to see his very cool mermaid-fin to leg transformation!!!)  But Francesca dear… you hold a special place of honor in the world of paper crafting authors…

I have yet to see the actual pages, but already the book has leaped to the top of my “luxury item that I don’t need but would love to have” wish list.

Can’t wait to see it!!!

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The Thornbush

As I’ve said before, my Lenten and Easter book picks are pretty slim.  There are a couple glorious Easter books that tell the story of Easter, but really there isn’t a whole lot out there that is specifically seasonally related like the way there is for Christmas. New to our basket this year is The Thornbush which tells of the little bush that ended up providing the crown of thorns for Jesus’ head. So, I’m not in LOVE with the book.  I am, however, in LIKE with the book.  The concept makes up for where the actual storytelling may lack, and Jesus isn’t TOO Caucasian looking (I always roll my eyes at our ethnocentrism.) at least. Most of all, it offers a different perspective from the scene of Christ’s passion and I loved the ending line about how his crown was far greater than gold or silver. The personification of the bush felt a little weird to me… although I don’t know why since I have no problem with trees being personified or flowers being personified in the same seasonal genre. Maybe because no one ever talks about bushes?  There is something more aesthetically palatable about trees and flowers that feel?  I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I am glad to have purchased this book for a new angle on the Easter story.  I have and love Wildsmith’s Easter Story of course (THE best) and also Fiona French’s Easter for the actual tale of Easter (need to get my hands on some Inos Biffi books), but no really great corollary, non-religious stories in the Easter season except Rechenka’s Eggs, and a couple other egg titles. The nice thing about The Thornbush is that it’s a useful story to illustrate the 3rd Sorrowful Mystery also… so it doesn’t have to be specifically an Easter title.  Some pictures:

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Saint John Bosco: The Friend of Children and Young People

Our “saint of the month” for January is St. John Bosco (feast day: January 31). I’ve grown to have quite an affection for this man who was such an amazing inspiration for youth in his time.  In reading more and more about him, I’ve started to look to him for a lot of our homeschooling philosophy too.   I love quotes like these:

“Without confidence and love, there can be no true education.”

“The teacher who is seen only in the classroom and nowhere else, is a teacher and nothing more; but let him go with his boys to recreation and he becomes a brother.”

“Frequent Communion and daily Mass are the two pillars of education.”

“[I have] always tried to enlighten the mind while ennobling the heart.”

“Do you want to do a good deed? Teach the young!
Do you want to perform a holy act? Teach the young!
Do you want to do a holy thing? Teach the young!
Truly, now and for the future, among holy things, this is the holiest.”

But I digress.  This is my blog; I’m allowed to digress.  Anyway, we picked up a small book at our parish library to read about Don Bosco this month and I was happily surprised at its digestibility.  See, I’m due any day now with my 6th baby (pray for me!!!) and this is currently one or our “low tide” seasons in homeschooling.  Latin lessons are on hold. Formal science is out.  It’s very basic morning basket time, and then individual math work and copywork.  Maybe a cool Loch Ness Monster documentary in the afternoon…  but frankly this is all I have energy for right now.  Real life will hopefully fill in the gaps but for now, we are busy tidying the home, running errands, readying the nest and resting aching joints to get ready for this babe.  You can expect a winter slowdown on this blog too.

So, like I said, I was happy to not have to devote hours and hours to a biography on Don Bosco.  He isn’t exactly the St. Francis of Assisi to the picture book world either so I was happy to find a little, colorful 65 page story about him from Paulist Media.

Saint John Bosco : The friend of children and young people tells the story from his childhood on up to his death and is both enjoyable and thorough in the process.  You could read it in one sitting, but we have chosen to make it a two-day read, stopping halfway about when he enters adulthood.  The pictures are engaging enough and so far it is holding the attention of my 4-11 year olds… quite a span!

Here are some pictures of the inside of the book to give you an idea of what to expect.

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Saint Felix and the Spider

Another new book by Dessi Jackson came out a few weeks ago!  This one is Saint Felix and the Spider and tells the story of how this saint befriended a little spider who went on to save him from soldiers hunting him down. It’s a fun little legend and would be excellent if you have a child named Felix and want to find SOMETHING… ANYTHING on his namesake! Or even if you just like to keep saint books on hand for feast days (January 14th in this case).  The illustrations are pretty good all around, fairly simple but bright and vibrant. It is so difficult to find good saint books on lesser-known saints and I’m very willing to seek these out!  This is the same author who brought us the very fun Saint and his Bees story recently too.  I hope there is more coming from her!

It’s really too bad that these aren’t offered in hardcovers (not sure if these small-time publishers can even offer that?) because they are great additions to a Catholic child’s bookshelf!

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The Jesse Tree in Picture Books

**** updated: 06/2015, new comments in RED****
Be sure to check out the alternate and more concise version of this list here.


I had an ambitious project in mind this year before Advent begins. Normally we do our readings for each day of the Jesse Tree straight from a Children’s Bible.  But I wanted to up our game. So I did some initial browsing online to see if it was even possible. It was. I could find a picture book for every individual Bible reading for each of the days of Advent! Mind = Blown.

I got many of my initial title inspirations from this kind mama where she lists a book for each of December’s days. But in our home, we do Jesse Tree a bit differently so I adjusted quite a bit for our purposes.  First of all, we observe Advent for the full 21-28 days depending on the year. Some folks keep it simple and just do Jesse Tree readings beginning Dec. 1st. Secondly, I wasn’t willing to find a picture book just to have a picture book of a certain story.  It had to be good, which means most serial Bible story sets need not apply. Third, beginning on December 17th, we switch completely to the Antiphons. So the last Bible story we read about is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth before going to the beautiful Messianic titles of Christ (heard in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). It would have been far too difficult to find picture books for THOSE, so we just go back to the simple Bible verse and prayer until Christmas Eve when we will read over the original Nativity story (picture book or straight from the Bible) itself.

So in reality, I needed a full 21 individual stories (28 – 7 Antiphons = 21 stories for the longest year of Advent.) On shorter Advent years, we may read more than one story a night (i.e. all the Moses readings work nicely to combine or separate) or skip one altogether.

The downside to this project is that finding picture books—quality picture books—for the stories I wanted to include was a big challenge. Huge actually. There are a myriad of cheap, saccharine-looking Bible story books on the market. But with enough hunting and scavenging and library holding… it was just about possible to find worthy books for my tastes! There are only a couple stories with which I’m not 100% satisfied, so my hunt continues.  Now, I had a couple of these titles already; many others were found at the library. Others were purchased at cheap out-of-print prices. Only one was splurged on at full price. So doing the Jesse tree with picture books is possible! But I admit that its a bit of a luxury; maybe start by acquiring just a few titles a year to supplement your regular readings.

Here’s what we have going on for a full 28 day Advent. This year, 2013, the season is only 24 days so we’re doing Moses all in one day and Joseph all in one day. I’ll probably skip Elijah altogether. I recently found a couple more stories that are NOT on this particular compendium but you may want to substitute in somewhere if you happen to have an easier time finding them than some of these others:

BALAAM’S ASS: I didn’t realize there was a good picture book version of this drama-comedy until I stumbled upon The Donkey’s Story by Barbara Cohen, thinking it must be a Christmas story at first. But I was pleasantly surprised.  Then I found another one I liked even better in  The Angel and the Donkey! There is a third story on this which I haven’t seen but it is part of an old vintage series that I would LOVE to have in its entirety: Balaam and his Ass .

JOSHUA: Joshua Crosses the Jordan is a reader book but it looks like it could be pretty good.  It’s done by the same pair who did the Elijah title below. 

 

Jesse Tree Booklist

Day 1: The Story of Creation. The best I found on this is Gennedy Spirin’s Creation. I’m looking forward to Archbishop Tutu’s yet to be released Let There Be Light (update 11/14: I’ve seen it now and not really a fan.). But so far, Spirin’s story is both the most simple, most beautiful (well God does look a little bit intimidating but I can overlook that) and most faithful to the original Bible text.
Day 2: Adam & Eve and the Fall. I am currently using Fiona French’s Paradise for the story of the Garden of Eden. I previewed a few others and either didn’t like the text or was uncomfortable with the full, frontal nudity. I loved everything about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden except for the overt nudity and as my three oldest are boys… I just would rather avoid that ogling temptation. Other families might feel differently. The nudity is in context after all, and one good mama suggested that she has no problem employing the Sharpie marker to lengthen Eve’s hair or some-such in these situations. But this particular Jane Ray book was a library one… and I wasn’t willing to purchase something that needed at least two pages of obvious modification. In French’s book, there are two pictures of Eve’s breasts; they are pretty benign considering the art is clearly stained glass-style unreal.
(I thickened an arm shadow to cover the nipple on one page and had the audacity to draw in a blackbird on Eve’s arm for the other page!  It might be a little ridiculous… my kids probably won’t notice the alterations at all. But I feel better anyway.) I wish the story went a little more into detail about Eve tempting Adam and the confrontation; it also ends on a somber note of simply the Garden being closed.  In short, it’s not perfect but I do like most of it…
Day 3: Noah and the Ark. Despite the many versions of this story, the clear-cut winner is hand’s down Jerry Pinkney’s Noah’s Ark(update 6/15: Wait, wait! Pinkeye’s is awesome but even better, EVEN BETTER is the new, GORGEOUS book of art Noah’s Ark)
Day 4: The Tower of Babel. I was very happy to see that a great and vibrant story exists on this: (albeit, out of print…) You can read my review on it at amazon. The Tower of Babel.
Day 5: The Promise to Abraham. I ran into some trouble here. I settled on a typical series-version book for the stories of Abraham and Isaac but it’s not anything worth writing about.  I really wanted to get my hands on Sarah Laughs but wasn’t able to budget it in this year… (update 11/14: got it and love it) and it still left me with the problem of…
Day 6: Isaac and Abraham. There IS The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac but I thought it strayed too far into the fanciful and I really want to keep our readings focused and reverent. So, until I find some better options, I’ll be reading from our mediocre story book for Abraham and Isaac.
Day 7: Jacob and Esau. Done very well in this book: Jacob and Esau.
Day 8: Joseph.  This is one of those stories that can be broken into two days: the early story of The Coat of Many Colors and the later story involving his brother” reconciliation in Benjamin and the Silver Goblet or you find the whole story done well in Joseph.
Days 9 & 10: Moses. This covers the individual stories of the baby in the basket, the 10 plagues and parting of the sea, and the 10 Commandments. We can read it in sections. There are a few different options that have the whole Moses story but the one I liked the most was done by Margaret Hodges and Barry Moser: Moses. I may also throw in parts from Wildsmith’s Exodus just to change it up a bit.
Day 11: Ruth.  I finally got The Story Of Ruth and think it’s a necessary addition to the Jesse Tree. I’ll be shortening the Moses stories to include this one!  It’s a great lesson in fidelity and devotion.
Day 12: Samuel. I was surprised to find The Story of the Call of Samuel! It’s a pretty well done version of the story. I just wonder why there aren’t other decent picture books on even more interesting Bible figures like Samson, Joshua, Elijah, and others…
Day 13: David and Goliath.  The best version I was able to find was David and Goliath.
Day 14: Esther. I really, really love the Esther book we use for this day! Queen Esther Saves Her People is just sooo good.  If you can’t borrow or purchase this one, there are other decent versions out there. I’d settle for The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale if it weren’t for the other one.
Day 15: Solomon. I wasn’t thrilled with the couple of books I previewed on Solomon’s riddles and such. I wanted a general idea of his kingship and justice.  So I bought the compilation picture book: Kings and Queens of the Bible and am pretty happy with it. Alternately, you can find a lovely tale of his testing by Queen Sheba in The Wisest Man in the World, complete with illustrations by the excellent Anita Lobel.
Day 16: Elijah.  I desperately wanted to find a good picture book on Elijah because I think he’s an important prophet and his story is neat enough to visualize.  Instead I found Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet at the library which is a collection of legends.  The book is nice but the only useful part to me for my purposes is the introduction which tells the actual story of Elijah. So I’m still on the hunt for a stand-alone picture book on this man. (update 11/14: There is a wonderful and excellent story to be found in Elijah and the Fire from Heaven but it is “very” out of print and used copies in good shape are hard to find. I’ll write more about this in a separate post. I did notice a reader book called Elijah and King Ahab but haven’t had a chance to personally preview it yet.  It is cheap though and looks like “inoffensive” art; I’d buy it if I didn’t have the other one.)
Day 17: Jonah.  I was really, really pleased with Jonah and the Whale. I looked at a few different versions of this story but was really discouraged by the twaddle and the unfaithful retellings out there.  This one is really good…
Day 18: King Belshazaar and the Writing on the Wall. I admit that this wasn’t my first pick on stories to include in our Jesse Tree traditions but I wasn’t able to identify any good books for the stories I DID want.  So this will suffice.  I found this story in the Kings and Queens of the Bible book again.
Day 19: Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I only got to see a couple story books with this tale in it (indeed there are only a couple) and the best one out there is definitely Daniel and the Lord of Lions.
Day 20: The Annunciation and Visitation. I have the book Mary by Brian Wildsmith but de Paola’s Mary: The Mother of Jesus is pretty great too. (also, let’s not forget the strange and wonderful book by Inos Biffi The Life of Mary to use for these stories also.) 

Days 21-27: The Antiphons

Day 28 (Christmas Eve): The Nativity.  There are a number of decent versions of the Nativity told in picture book form. I like ones that use the actual words from the Bible. I’m using Francesca Crespi’s The Nativity because I already had it and it’s a nice, special, pop-up touch to the end of the Advent season for my kids. Other worthy titles are: The Christmas StoryBethlehem, and Christmas Story.

Happy reading!


*Addendum

Why do the Jesse Tree at all?  For us, it’s to give the FULL Christmas story… to remember the beginning of salvation history. I love this thought from then-Cardinal Ratzinger (1986):
     “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. 
     The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…
     It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

 

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The Saint and His Bees

November 1st is All Saints Day.  I like to introduce one new saint book into our collection on that day as a gift to my children.  This usually means finding a used copy of a saint book throughout the year at some point and hiding and saving it for that day.  Occasionally, in mid October, I do an online hunt for a particular book I’ve had my eye on and buy it used.  Rarely, is there a new, worthy saint book published that gets bought right away. This year, however, there was!  I took a gamble on The Saint and his Bees because I didn’t know anything about it. All I knew was that I absolutely loved illustrator Claire Brandenburg’s other book The Monk Who Grew Prayer.  I have been reluctant to purchase other titles of hers simply because she writes not explicitly Catholic books… but Orthodox.  Without going into history details, there is a fine distinction between the two faiths and while I respect Orthodox believers very much, I don’t make a point of venerating their saints specifically (pre-schism: the Catholic and Orthodox churches share the same saints… so I always double check to make sure the book being written by an Orthdodox author is about a saint who lived prior to the 11th century or so. There are exceptions: I did buy the book The Wonderful Life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh after researching that St. Sergius was indeed also recognized by the Roman Catholic Church…)

Anyway,  onto this year’s gift to my children: a story about St. Modomnoc (aka: St. Dominic), an Irish monk and student of St. David of Wales in the 6th century. It tells of his bond with the monastery’s bees and the legend of how bees were introduced into Ireland because the swarm  didn’t want to let their dear monk go when he had to return to the island… so they followed him!  Illustrated in Brandenburg’s classic, rough, quirky style, the story is sweet and fun and a great addition to our collection.  I’ll have to do some updating to my listmania lists in this category. I only wish it (and The Monk Who Grew Prayer) was available in hardback!  Such a pity to have lovely stories vulnerable to my ravishing, rowdy-handed children!  I just have to be extra careful…  🙂

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