I’ve been writing the Catholic Reader column for about a year and a half now and it’s been quite enjoyable sharing a great variety of books that I hope you have found interesting. Books can be a great Christmas gift and can be a chance to draw our kids into reading more about the faith. The key to engage our kids is to enliven their imagination using dynamic stories and beautiful images that draw them into truth and goodness. TAN Books in particular has released a number of very good books for children in the past few years that would make great Christmas gifts.
First, I strongly recommend two books produced jointly by former students of mine from the Augustine Institute, author Katie Warner and illustrator Meg Whalen. First, a board book, Cloud of Witnesses: A Child’s First Book of Saints (2018), contains short prayers and sayings of the saints combined with simple and striking images. Second, I Went to Mass: What Did I See? (2018), also for younger children, walks them through all the major steps for understanding the Mass more, from the popular holy water font on.
Another series for younger readers details the life of monks in an accessible way, showing the monks’ daily routines and also their approachable humanity.
Sylvia Dorham and artist Christopher Tupa team up for The Monks’ Daily Bread (2015) and The Monks’ Stormy Night (2017), both of which show how the monks learn to trust God through problems which strike the monastery. Children will enjoy the pictures and rhymes and receive a lighthearted and faithful introduction to religious life.
Moving to a slightly older audience, Carrie Gress helps youth encounter Our Lady in Marian Consecration for Children: Bringing Mary to Life in Young Hearts and Minds (2018). I made a consecration to Jesus through Mary when I was 15 years old, following the method of St. Louis de Montfort. Gress does a great service in making this spirituality available at even younger ages, explaining the lives and spirituality of the saints, helping youth form habits of prayer, and using good literature in her explanations.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was one of the greatest Catholic writers of the past century. Chesterton is still known for his Fr. Brown detective series, which has been turned into a Hollywood movie, staring Alec Guinness, and two different television series. Younger readers, about middle school age, can experience an early introduction to Chesterton as three sisters encounter him on their summer vacation in a mystery novel, Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Chestertons and the Golden Key (2016). High schoolers may enjoy one of Chesterton’s own novels, The Ball and the Cross, with new illustrations by Ben Hake (2014), which, with Chestertonian wit, engages the timely topics of the confrontation of atheism and Catholicism and tolerance gone awry.
Another TAN book that you may consider, though not written primarily for children, deals with C.S. Lewis’ immensely popular children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Joseph Pearce’s Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia (2018). The Narnia books are popular with children and adults alike, as Pearce tells us that “there is . . . something primal in our need for fairy stories which becomes more acute as we lose the innocence and naiveté of childhood. In other words, adults need fairy stories even more than children do. Adults need to have their sense of wonder rekindled, whereas children, especially very young children, are already ablaze with it” (6). By deepening our own imaginations, we can help form our children’s imaginations, keeping them from the many webs that would cloud out their innocence and creativity. Reading The Chronicles of Narnia out loud to our children is a great experience on both sides and will bring about many fruitful discussions, especially as we unpack his allegory and symbolism. For those who have already been deeply immersed in Lewis’ vision, Pearce’s book can help you dive deeper into the Christian meaning of the stories. My own teenage daughter, Mariana, a big Narnia fan, gave the book her endorsement!
I must commend TAN Books for offering such a splendid array of visually and intellectually inspiring books for our children. Consider giving some of them as Christmas gifts this year.