Monday, December 12, 2011

Q & A with Local Author Deacon Bruce Bradford

Following is my brief interview with local author Deacon Bruce Bradford, author of An Angel Named Herald, one of the books I reviewed in my December column about Christmas gift books.  Thanks so much, Deacon Bradford, for sharing about your book and your life here!

Q: Tell Catholic Post Book Group blog readers a little about yourself and your family.

I've been married 47 years to my wife Terry, and we have four children and 10 grandchildren. Both Terry and I were born and raised in the state of Maine. I worked for Pan American Airways for 25 years( and so I can say that the TV series is not all that accurate.). We lived in New York City; Shaker Heights Ohio; and then 38 years in Oak Park, just outside Chicago.  In 2006 we retired to Pekin to be closer to our daughters and five of our ten grandchildren. I was ordained as a permanent Deacon 26 years ago in Chicago. At present I am assigned to two parishes; St Joseph in Hopedale & St Mary in Delavan. I am an amateur actor (20 years) and am presently in a production of A Christmas Carol. This fall, I performed in “The Ghosts of Spoon River.”

I also volunteer driving seniors for the Miller Senior Center, and conduct a “Bible Connections” session for the mentally and physically challenged at PARC in North Peoria. I am constantly reading and enjoy travelling around the country with Terry to visit our boys in Houston and Minneapolis.  Isn’t retirement grand?

Q:  How did you come up with the idea for the book?

Six years ago I decided that as Deacon of the Mass I wanted to read something after the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve for the children.  I created Herald to be used as someone we could emulate as a messenger for God’s message of love. The response that first Christmas eve was “Where can we buy the book?” I of course had to say that Herald was in my head only.  People urged me to publish which I respectively laughed off.

When I moved to Pekin and was assigned to the two parishes mentioned I read the story to the children and again was asked about a book. A parishioner overheard my discussion. She walked up to me and said,”Publish it, and I want the first copy.”  Eight months later she had her copy.

Q. You mentioned that the book was initially intended for your grandchildren.  What made you want to publish it to a wider audience?

I asked myself why publish “Herald”?  I determined that if I published it would be for my ten grandchildren.  I wanted them to have something of their grandfather's creation. The original orders for books reflected that desire. Then I decided to get additional copies for the children on Christmas Eve and my friends at Parc. I started getting requests from friends for the book and suggestions that I do a book signing.  I’ve had one in Oak Park, one at Lagron-Miller in Peoria, and on December 20th I’ll be doing another book signing at “I Know You Like a Book” bookstore in Peoria Heights.  The book has been a blessing, and has reunited me with so many folks around the country.

Q.  What do you hope readers take away from “An Angel Named Herald”?

Herald’s story is our story.  Jesus came to create a “new” kingdom; a kingdom based on Love and action.  We like Herald, have doubts that we are up to the task, but God like he did with Herald provides us with the tools to be his Herald.  We, like Herald, are called to be God’s messengers.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add, or wish I would have asked?

People have asked if there will be a sequel. My answer to that is Herald in our lives is a daily sequel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meet a Reader: Shirley Plaag

"Meet a Reader" appears on the monthly book page of The Catholic Post, and it features someone within the diocese of Peoria who enjoys reading.  Here are the four questions I ask "readers" to answer: how you (meaning Post readers) know me, why I love reading, what I'm reading now, and my favorite book.  This month, I feature Shirley Plaag, a delightful young woman who is a fellow volunteer on the Behold Conference.

How you know me: 

I was born and raised here in Peoria and have lived here just about my entire life, minus four years of college at Franciscan University of Steubenville and a year of mission work at St. Gianna’s Maternity Home in North Dakota. I am currently a member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria were I work with a wonderful group of 4th graders every Sunday. I most recently began teaching religion to another wonderful group of middle school students at St. Mary’s School in Kickapoo. Last, but not least, I sell books at Lagron-Miller Company alongside the lovely Gina McKenna. When I’m not working or reading, I love to cook and bake. Just ask my friends and family!

Why I love reading:

I love reading quite simply because it transforms my life. After studying four years of Theology and Catechetics, I have covered a lot of ground in spiritual reading. God speaks to me through the things that I read by challenging me and calling me to a deeper conversion. My favorite thing about reading- whether it be a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the life of a great saint or the writings of the Holy Fathers- is that it is something that I can share with others to deepen their understanding or devotion as well as my own.

What I'm reading now:

 I think that I may have a bookmark in at least 10 books at the moment! I just finished Mystery of Joseph by Fr. Philippe, founder of the Community of St. John. This beautiful book sheds a new light on the Gospel accounts where St. Joseph is present and gives an intimate look into the life of the Holy Family. Scott Hahn called this book “profound and deep” and I wholeheartedly agree. In the spirit of the coming feasts of Christmas, I am also reading the classic Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol and Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting by Mother Mary Frances P.C.C. Recently, I have picked up Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim to share with my students.

My favorite book:

Choosing a favorite book is a challenge. There are many that I am passionate about, but there are two that stand out among the stacks. The first is A Serve Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. This is a poignantly written memoir about the journey of the author and his wife from “A Pagan Love,” a love that is turned in on one another to a selfless love of the living God, Jesus Christ. This true story is full of beauty, poetry, joy, despair and honesty about what it means to fully convert our lives to Christ. This message is clear: there is no middle ground and there is no turning back once we have encountered Him. [The following is my favorite excerpt from the book, written by the author before his conversion: “How did one find joy? In books it seemed to be found in love- a great love- though maybe for the saints there was joy in the love of God. He didn't aspire to that, though; He didn't even believe in God. Certainly not! So, if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books again, great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain- if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice- and he suspected there was- a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths, and on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and depths."]

The second is I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat on the Teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Fr. Jean d’Elbée. This book has changed my life time and time again. It is one that I go back too when I need to relearn the “Little Way” of St. Thérèse. This book, written with a great deal of gentleness and love has brought me through many trials in life and reminded me that I am a joy for Jesus because “His delight is to be with the children of men” (Prov. 8:31).

I am also a big fan of anything written by C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, and Archbishop Charles Chaput just to name a few. But, I digress. I can’t write about them all. I must join St. John the Beloved Disciple in saying “were every one of them to be written, I suppose the that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Great Christmas Gift Books for "Almost" Everyone

Every great book is not for every person.    Accepting that reality has been a journey.

I used to think that some books absolutely everyone must read, and then they would love and cherish them as much as I did.  This view was shaken some years back when I proposed to our little parish book group that we read Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey.   I was shocked that every member but me so disliked reading (much less discussing) this classic.

And then there was the time last year I solemnly promised to Sue, a Catholic workout buddy, that she would love The Loser Letters, but she must read and love The Screwtape Letters first.  And she really, really didn’t like either one.  Sorry, Sue!

Those books are classic and deservedly loved by millions.  And they would make great Christmas gift books . … . for me.  But, as I now admit freely, not for everyone. 

With those stories (and many others, trust me) in mind, putting together my annual list of Christmas-worthy gift books became daunting.  I receive tons of great Catholic books, and learn about many others.  How to recommend ones that would be of interest to the wide range of Catholic Post readers? 

This year, I chose not just books I personally love, but well-written, nicely “done” books that may be outside my comfort zone but that others would love and enjoy.  I sought out online friends, church acquaintances, and even perfect strangers in trying to find out what makes a great gift book.  And as always, I encourage you to seek out your local Catholic bookseller and explore the great options out there. 

Fiction for adults:

Ida Elizabeth:  Ignatius Press has a new edition of one of my favorite authors, Sigrid Undset, best known for her historical fiction trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter.  Ida Elizabeth is set in the 20th century, but still conveys Undset’s characteristic Catholic style and deep exploration of marriage and relationships.

Stealing Jenny (available as both an e-book and paperback) by award-winning author Ellen Gable is a well-paced and heart-pounding story with a very Catholic vision.  I could not stop reading Stealing Jenny on my Kindle App, neglecting household and family to find out what would happen.

Fiction for kids:

*Who can resist Christmas puns?  Not me.  An Angel Named Herald by local author Deacon Bruce Bradford is a charmingly goofy picture book with a sweet Christmas message.

*The brand-new Betsy-Tacy Treasury compiles in one handsome volume the first four classic  Betsy-Tacy books; they are like the Little House books, except set in early 1900s small-town Minnesota.  Tacy is a Catholic girl, and faith is a normal element of the girls’ lives.

*Ranger’s Apprentice fans rejoice, as author John Flanagan has begun a new series  set in the fictional lands of Araluen and Skandia —The Brotherband Chronicles.    Fans of adventure, friendship and fun will enjoy The Outsiders—first in this series about a group of  young sailors.

*For older readers (teens and up), The Song at the Scaffold by Gertrude von Le Fort, a classic recently reprinted, is a fictionalized account of the true martyrdom of a group of Carmelite sisters during the French “Reign of Terror


“A sad saint is a sorry saint, indeed,” goes the old expression.  Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by Father James Martin, S.J., explores how humor and laughter are not just add-ons, but vital, to healthy spirituality.  Like all Fr. Martin’s works, Mirth is easy to read without being “lite.” 

Surrender! The Life Changing Power of Doing God’s Will by Father Larry Richards, mentioned to me by several readers.  Fr. Richard challenges people to grow in the spiritual life  by putting God and His will first, always.

I love well-designed and written books that feel good to hold and read.  Generous Faith: Stories to Inspire Abundant Living by Sister Bridget Haase is handsomely formatted and sized.  In short, thoughtful stories, Sr. Bridget invites readers to have “generous faith” by living in the moment, accepting and trusting in divine care, and experiencing God’s presence in our daily lives. 

Welcome Baby Jesus! Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families by Sarah Reinhard is a gentle, easy read to help families “appreciate Advent” and the Christmas season through Scripture, reflections and action ideas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Book Giveaway #4: Baxter's Big Teeth by Betty Counce

Fourth in the Catholic Post Book Group Advent Book giveaway is Baxter's Big Teeth.

Baxter's Big Teeth is first in a series of books called "Critters Like Me," from a local book publisher, Keepworthy Creations,  started last year to offer high value keepsake gifts and books that teach life lessons offered in print and interactive formats.   The books are written by local author Betty Counce, and illustrator by local artist (and member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Peoria Heights) David Seay.

The book tells the story of a beaver, Baxter, who has to learn patience as his "big teeth" begin to grow in.  Even the dentist- averse kids at our house enjoyed this little story, though we (including Mom) were more concerned about Baxter losing his family at the beginning of the book than his tooth woes.  It all ends well, though, as Baxter learns how to have patience and take care of his teeth.

What I like best about the book is that it comes with a nicely designed and quite substantial keepsake pewter "tooth box."  This giveaway is for the book, pewter tooth box and soft pouch (for the box).

Here are the rules for this giveaway and all the books in the giveaway.  You must comment on the blog post or posts giving away the book.  So, if you are interested in Baxter's Big Teeth, leave a comment here on this post.

In addition, if you are the winner, I will let you know via comment if I do not have an e-mail or a way to reach you.  If you do not respond in two days, I'll pull another name.  That's it!  Couldn't be easier.

Baxter's Big Teeth and other books in the "Critters Like Me" series are available at local Hallmarks, the "I Know You Like a Book" bookstore in Peoria Heights, and various online booksellers.

Deadline for this giveaway is Thursday, December 8, at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Book Giveaway #3: Olivia's Gift

Third book in the Advent Book Giveaway is Olivia's Gift by Nancy Carabio Belanger.  Olivia's Gift was one of the highlights of my December 2010 Christmas gift books column in the Catholic Post.

This book is a great read for girls especially in the 5th to 8th grade range.  As I wrote previously:  "Olivia's Gift follows Olivia in her summer before 7th grade, navigating friends, family and trying (and not always succeeding) to live out St. Therese’s “Little Way.”  There’s a very powerful, but sensitively handled, pro-life theme here. The book is a sequel to the wonderful Olivia and the Little Way, that chronicles Olivia’s fifth grade year and her ups & downs.  The books can be read independently of each other, but most girls will want to read both once they’ve read one."

I'm embarrassed to say that Nancy sent me a copy of the novel last year for a giveaway, and I had all planned to give away a copy of the book back then.  But if I remember correctly, a bout of the flu took me out for quite a bit of that season, and I couldn't manage all I had intended for the blog.   Month after month I kept thinking I would manage a giveaway of Olivia's Gift sometime during the year, but it didn't happen until now.  But truly, it would be a great Christmas gift for a young girl in your life.

Here are the rules for this giveaway and all the books in the giveaway.  You must comment on the blog post or posts giving away the book.  So, if you are interested in Olivia's Gift, leave a comment here on this post.

In addition, if you are the winner, I will let you know via comment if I do not have an e-mail or a way to reach you.  If you do not respond in two days, I'll pull another name.  That's it!  Couldn't be easier.

If you are not a winner in this giveaway, I notice that Harvey House publishing, publisher of Olivia's Gift, has a free shipping offer for books ordered before December 16, so do take advantage of that special offer.

Deadline for this giveaway is Sunday, December 4, at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 16, Christmas Book Edition, December 2011

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

Normally, I finish my "first, what are you reading?" post well in advance of the first day of the month, but  this month I did not.  Rather than make it a "second, what are you reading?" post, I'm going to quickly list a couple of Christmas classic books, and invite you to share yours.  No "what I like best, least or next" this time.  You'll have to fill in for me.  And don't forget to enter the book giveaway that ends tonight.

First, what are you reading?  

Linda, a fellow library volunteer, shared with me a great book that I read to kids this week in the school library.  It's called Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto.  It's a very sweet and funny book, makes you want to make tamales after you finish, and also funny.  A couple of the classes of kids and I worked out the math problems if four kids had to eat the 24 tamales, how many tamales each?  Thanks for introducing it to me, Linda!

We haven't gotten out any of our Christmas books yet, but two of our absolute favorites are The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer (note that we have that actual older edition, given to me several years back by one of my sisters).  It's fairly goofy, but I pretty much have it memorized after reading it four Christmases ago literally every day from about December 15 to mid-February, so fond was our then four-year-old of that book.  We all still love it.

The other every Christmas must read aloud, though my kids are getting older, is Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy.  I see a handsome new edition came out last Christmas, and I might have to invest in that this year.  We have a very old edition of this.

What are the favorite perennial Christmas books at your house?